Aquatic Architects: Freshwater Shrimp & Their Role in Aquascaping

What is it that takes a plain, simple aquarium and turns it into a masterpiece? Aquascaping. Aquascaping is, more or less, underwater gardening. It’s the use of natural décor elements such as live plants, driftwood, stone, and various substrates to create a thriving underwater environment.

Though some concepts of traditional gardening apply to aquascaping, the two differ in many ways. From planning to execution and maintenance, aquascaping can be challenging but the reward is well worth the time and effort you put into it.

Let’s explore the basics of aquascaping as well as some popular styles. We’ll also talk about an element you might include if you want to take your aquascaping to the next level: aquarium shrimp. Here you’ll learn the history of freshwater shrimp in aquascaping and receive some tips for keeping them.

The Basics of Aquascaping

When you stroll through the aquarium at the zoo or peruse the display tanks at your local fish store, you may find yourself thinking that it’s difficult to accomplish a beautifully aquascaped tank. In reality, it isn’t as difficult as it looks. The trick is to follow a few key principles:

  • Keep it simple. When it comes to designing an aquarium, less if often more. The last thing you want to do is overcrowd your tank. Start with a few key décor elements and just one or two types of aquarium plants. You can always add more if the tank feels too sparse.
  • Mind your proportions. Try to create a sense of harmony with your tank design, leaving as much open space as you have filled space. When choosing aquarium plants, try to balance out large-leaf plants with smaller plants and carpet plants.
  • Include variety. Just because you want to keep your design simple doesn’t mean you can’t include variety. Don’t go overboard with a dozen different types of plants but choose a few design elements that work together.
  • Deconstruct and try again. When you’re first starting out, aquascaping can be frustrating. Don’t be afraid to take apart your design and try again with something new. The more you play around with your décor elements, the more you’ll learn.

If you’re at a loss for where to start with your new aquarium, start by choosing a focal point. It might be a piece of driftwood, a large rock, or even a pile of rocks. Before adding substrate, play around with different arrangements in the tank to see what you like. Don’t forget that you can rotate décor elements like driftwood and stone to create different shapes.

Once you’ve found a design you like, sit with it for a while before you add substrate and fill the tank. You may find that, after living with it for a few days, you discover small changes that could bring the design together or make it more attractive.

3 Aquascaping Styles 

Aquascaping is an art form, so many of the rules you might be familiar with from creative mediums like photography may apply. For example, placing décor elements in your tank according to the rule of thirds helps create visual appeal. It draws the viewer’s eye and leads them organically toward the next design element. Remember, the focal point of your tank need not be in the center.

Before you start designing your tank, take the time to familiarize yourself with some popular aquascaping styles. They might give you inspiration for your own tank.

  1. The Nature Aquarium – Originally introduced in the 1990s by Japanese Takashi Amano, this style has a very natural look. This style is characterized by complexity and visual contrasts.
  2. Iwagumi (Japanese Zen) – Unlike the Nature Aquarium, Iwagumi aquascaping is simple and minimalistic. It typically involves the use of one large stone and two smaller stones surrounded by low-growing carpet plants.
  3. The Dutch Aquarium – This aquascaping style doesn’t use any rocks or driftwood – it relies on different aquatic plants to create visual intrigue. The Dutch Aquarium style can be very challenging unless you are experienced in raising aquarium plants.

Freshwater shrimp for aquascaping.

You don’t necessarily need to mimic one of these styles in your own tank, but looking at images of these aquascaping styles may give you ideas. Don’t be afraid to pick and choose elements from different styles or to recreate a tank design you find in your research.

The History of Shrimp in Aquariums

Carefully aquascaped tanks can be challenging to maintain, especially if you add live tank inhabitants. If you want to stock your tank, it’s best to avoid large fish that might disturb your décor. Small, gentle fish are preferable but freshwater shrimp are an ideal choice – especially amano shrimp.

Amano shrimp were first introduced into the aquarium trade in the early 1980s by Takashi Amano. When aquarium hobbyists discovered the benefits of amano shrimp for natural algae control, the use of freshwater shrimp in aquascaping really took off. If you have enough space in your tank, you might even consider keeping Neocaridina shrimp as well. They bring a lot of color to the aquarium and have similar requirements for water parameters as amano shrimp.

Here are a few quick tips for keeping freshwater shrimp:

  • Always let your tank fully cycle before adding shrimp. Freshwater shrimp are fairly easy to care for, but they require a mature tank because they are sensitive to changes in water chemistry.
  • Make sure your tank has plenty of filtration to maintain high water quality. Sponge filters are a great choice for shrimp tanks because they are gentle.
  • Consider whether you need a heater in your aquarium. Both Neocaridina and Caridina are cold-water species, so you might not need a heater unless you have other tank inhabitants.
  • Take care not to overfeed your shrimp. They will eat algae and biofilm in the tank, so you may only need to supplement their diet a few times a week.

If you’re thinking about adding shrimp to an aquascaped tank, make sure you’re settled with your design first – you don’t want to disturb your shrimp by going in and rearranging things. Give the tank plenty of time to cycle and add the shrimp a few at a time to avoid increasing the bio-load all at once.

Want to learn more about raising freshwater aquarium shrimp? Check out our guide to freshwater shrimp care.

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