Vampire Shrimp: Nature’s Underwater Vampires in Your Tank

Species Snapshot

  • Species Name: Atya gabonensis
  • Common Names: vampire shrimp, viper shrimp, African fan shrimp
  • Size: Up to 6 inches
  • Lifespan: Up to 5 years
  • Native Distribution: West Africa

Freshwater shrimp come in a wide range of colors and patterns, but few are as fascinating as the vampire shrimp (Atya gabonensis). Similar in appearance to crayfish, vampire shrimp can grow up to 6 inches in length and have the ability to change color. 

Originally discovered in 1875 in Gabon, Africa, the vampire shrimp is still fairly rare in the aquarium hobby. It became popular as a delicacy in Europe for a while during the mid-1900s and it wasn’t until the latter part of the century that aquarium hobbyists took an interest. 

Though not one of the easiest specimens to find, vampire shrimp make a unique addition to the home aquarium. Here’s what you need to know about their care and keeping.

Anatomy and Appearance 

Known by many names including the viper shrimp or African fan shrimp, vampire shrimp are omnivorous filter feeders. They use featherlike claspers to filter food particles from the water column. These shrimp can grow up to 6 inches in length, though most stay between 2 and 3 inches long. Along with their size, vampire shrimp often live longer than other freshwater shrimp

The name vampire shrimp isn’t a reference to this species’ disposition. They are quite peaceful, in fact, and are unlikely to both other tank inhabitants. Rather, the name refers to the shrimp’s nocturnal nature and the fang-like appearance of their feeding appendages. 

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the vampire shrimp is its ability to change color. Unlike other freshwater shrimp, the vampire shrimp isn’t found in multiple strains of varying color. That’s because the species’ color changes in accordance with its surroundings. Everything from the substrate in the tank to water parameters can influence the species’ coloration which may include various shades of pink, red, purple, blue, green, brown. 

Learn about freshwater shrimp.

Ideal Aquarium Setup 

As filter feeders, vampire shrimp take food from the water column. This means it’s important to provide them with a large enough tank to explore and that provides enough water movement to create a current. Like other freshwater shrimp, vampire shrimp are sensitive to changes in water parameters, so an established aquarium is best

Tank Size

To provide adequate space for vampire shrimp to explore and find food, a minimum tank size of 20 gallons is recommended. 

Water Parameters

Though freshwater shrimp require clean water with stable chemistry, you don’t want to keep your vampire shrimp tank “too clean.” There needs to be edible matter floating in the water for your shrimp to eat, so a good filter that creates plenty of water movement is a must. 

Vampire shrimp prefer warm, slightly hard water with a neutral pH. 

The ideal tank parameters for vampire shrimp are: 

  • Temperature: 74°F to 84°F
  • pH Level: 6.8 to 7.5 
  • GH: 6 to 20 dGH 
  • KH: 2 to 15

Vampire shrimp can do well in tanks equipped with sponge filters as long as there’s an air stone or a powerhead to create water movement. These shrimp also thrive in oxygen-rich environments, so water movement contributes to this benefit.

Tank Décor

Unlike Caridina and Neocaridina shrimp, vampire shrimp don’t feed on biofilm and algae that accumulates on surfaces in the tank. While they may still eat these substances, they feed on particles in the water. That said, heavily planted tanks are still ideal because they provide plenty of places for this shy freshwater shrimp species to hide. 

It’s also worth noting that hiding places are of particular importance for vampire shrimp because they are nocturnal. Use driftwood and rockwork to build caves where your shrimp can hide during the day but leave open space where they can feed from moving water at night.

Diet and Feeding 

Again, vampire shrimp are filter feeders. This means they are more likely to require supplemental feeding than freshwater dwarf shrimp from the Caridina or Neocaridina genus. High-quality crushed flakes or powdered foods are ideal for vampire shrimp. When feeding, place the food near the powerhead or other source of water movement so it sinks and circulates around the tank.

As with any aquarium inhabitants, it’s important to avoid overfeeding vampire shrimp. They’ll only be able to eat what they can filter from the water, so it’s better to feed very small portions several times a day than a larger portion once or twice. Any uneaten food will break down and potentially cause ammonia levels in your tank to spike.

Temperament and Tank Mates

Because they are peaceful by nature and nocturnal, vampire shrimp are unlikely to bother other tank inhabitants. They also grow larger than many dwarf shrimp, so there are plenty of options for tank mates. Just keep in mind that large fish may see your vampire shrimp as prey. 

The best tank inhabitants for vampire shrimp may be other freshwater shrimp like red cherry shrimp or Taiwan bee shrimp. They’ll also get along with freshwater snails and peaceful bottom feeders like Corydoras catfish. Just avoid keeping vampire shrimp with large or aggressive tankmates, including crayfish (even though they look similar). 


Vampire shrimp are considered low-form spawners which means that their fry go through a series of complex larval planktonic stages in different types of water conditions. This being the case, captive breeding is a challenge and you’re unlikely to be successful with it in the home aquarium.

Other Tips and Fun Facts

  • Vampire shrimp are happy to be kept singly but will also do well in groups with others of their own kind.
  • The type of substrate and decorations you use in your tank may influence your vampire shrimp’s coloration – you might even use different substrate in different parts of the tank to see the changes. 
  • While vampire shrimp can thrive in multi-species shrimp tanks, they prefer warmer water temperatures than some dwarf shrimp. Choose your tank mates carefully and adjust the tank conditions as needed.
  • Like other shrimp and invertebrates, vampire shrimp are highly sensitive to copper — be very careful when using chemical medications in your shrimp tank.
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