Aquariums can be wonderful community ecosystems where lots of different, disparate species of fish, plants and even coral come together. It is this dynamic combination of different creatures which makes aquariums so appealing for enthusiastic hobbyists.
However, how do you make a community ecosystem when you have one creature who is famously territorial and dominant, such as a betta. This is a real quandary for tank owners all over the world, who would love to keep this spectacular fish in their tank, but don’t know what species to combine it with.
Well this article should help resolve the issue, as we introduce you to one species of shrimp that is surprisingly well suited to sharing a tank with this fearsome aquatic alpha.
Of course, the guidelines in this article are going to be very general and generic, but you need to get to know your own betta. You should be able to gauge their temperament by careful observation.
Are they relatively calm and happy to ignore things, or are they highly strung and likely to strike out at the slightest provocation?
This will determine what kind of shrimp or fish they could share a tank with.
Only you can answer these questions, but thorough research should help to prepare you to introduce new species to your tank.
What is a Betta?
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You may know the betta by its other name, the Siamese fighting fish. Even if you have never heard of this creature before, that colloquial name should give you a clue to its personality.
The betta originates in the shallow paddy field waters of Indochina, in countries such as Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and even Vietnam.
However, it is now popular in domestic aquariums all over the world, since it was first brought to Europe as an aquarium specimen in the 1890s.
The betta is renowned worldwide for its aggressive tendencies and willingness to strike out at other fish. This is observed in some specimens in the wild, but their encounters tend to be short lived and relatively tame.
On the other hand, in captivity, generations of selective breeding have served to enhance their natural aggression, since this is one of their most sought-after characteristics. In fact, in many countries betta fighting is a common blood sport that is widely gambled on. This is why finding a tank mate for a betta is so problematic.
They will tend to view any larger fish as potential threats and will attack without provocation. They may even get annoyed by smaller, less intimidating fish, and lash out at them too. Multiple bettas should never be kept together, especially males, as fights and collateral damage are certain.
As well as their pugilistic abilities, betta fish are much sought after because of their attractive physical appearance. In domestic variants they often show very vivid colors, such as bright oranges, reds and even blues. This is in stark contrast to their wild cousins, who usually have dull earthy tones.
Also, they can have a variety of fin structures, and they are generally spectacular fish, which are a real feature in a fish tank. Fully grown adults can reach a length of almost 3 inches.
What is a Cherry Shrimp?
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So, what is a suitable companion for such fierce fish you might wonder?
The cherry shrimp, also known as the red cherry shrimp (scientific name: Neocardinia heteropoda) is a peaceful shrimp that is native to the waters of Taiwan. It is a freshwater shrimp, which is one of the reasons why is compatible with the betta.
The cherry shrimp comes in a variety of graded colors. At the less expensive end of the spectrum, the regular cherry shrimp tend to be mostly transparent, with just a hint of red in patches.
On the other hand, at the rarer end of the spectrum, the painted fire red shrimp is a solid, deep red color and has almost no transparent areas. These are much sought after and more hence more expensive.
In terms of size the cherry shrimp is a moderately sized shrimp, between the ghost shrimp and the bigger amano shrimp. Fully grown adults may be 1.5 inches in length, with female shrimp being slightly larger than their male counterparts.
Cherry shrimp are very peaceful invertebrates. They will just stay out of the way of the wandering betta, especially if you provide them with some ornaments, rocks or aquatic plants as places of refuge. They will not cause major disruption to you tank, in fact, quite the opposite.
Cherry shrimp, like most other shrimp, are opportunistic scavengers. They are very productive algae eaters, so if any pernicious green algae starts to appear in your tank they will like to feast on this straight away.
This can help to keep your tank clean and clear, as well as healthy for all the other residents of the ecosystem.
Can Cherry Shrimp and Betta live together?
It seems very surprising that these two creatures, with such different personalities, could thrive together in the same tank. But in fact, this is precisely the reason why cherry shrimp and betta are mutually compatible.
The betta is not likely to be threatened by small red shrimp scurrying at the bottom of the tank, and the cherry shrimp are not going to be in direct competition for resources with the betta.
In fact, the cherry shrimp will be happy to mostly feed of the remnants of food and other scraps that are leftover from when the betta feeds, and then falls to the bottom of the tank. Generally betta and cherry shrimp are happy to just ignore each other and live in harmony.
Of course, if your betta is particularly cranky or has a very aggressive streak, then no smaller fish or shrimp is going to be safe when they lash out. You will have to decide what level of risk you are willing to take when introducing new species,
What things do they need?
To make sure your cherry shrimp and betta can successfully cohabit in your tank, there are a number of important environmental considerations to take into account. This could be the difference between a very happy tank, and a tank that is prone to feuding and aggressive outbursts.
First of all, it is crucial that you provide rocks, regolith, ornaments or some other form of cover for your shrimp to take refuge in. Not only will this recreate their situation in the wild and help them feel at home, but it also provides a measure of protection for them if the betta turns nasty.
This will help your shrimp feel more secure and less stressed, and in general lower levels of stress mean a healthier tank all round. It will give your shrimp a home base from which to scurry out from to find food.
To help this partnership be a happy and healthy one you should also invest in some aquatic plants.
These aquatic plants, such as Java moss or ferns, should help to mimic the natural environment of the betta.
As an added benefit, the foliage of the aquatic plants could provide a tasty snack for the omnivorous cherry shrimp.
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Are Cherry Shrimp and Betta suited to the same Water?
Water conditions and water chemistry can have a major impact on the overall health and well-being of your fish.
Aquarium enthusiasts go to great lengths to make sure parameters like pH, temperature, salinity and hardness are kept in control and at optimum levels for the inhabitants of their tank. If not, the results could be disastrous, as the slightest variations could cause your tank ecosystem to become much more unhealthy.
That is why it is crucially important that both cherry shrimp and betta are suited to the same water conditions. Thankfully, they are.
pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of water, with a pH value under 7 indicating acidic water and pH values above 7 indicating alkaline conditions.
Cherry shrimp are relatively hardy creatures who can survive in a wide range of pH values from 6.5 to 8. Fortunately, this overlaps with the optimum pH value for a betta, which is 7.
They are similarly compatible in terms of preferred water temperature. Both of them are native to hotter climates and thus they prefer relatively warm tank water.
For example, the preferred temperature range for the cherry shrimp is 65-85 F, while the optimum temperature for the betta sits nicely within this range at 78 F.
Both species are freshwater fish and they are intolerant of brackish waters or waters with a high concentration of dissolve salt.
They can tolerate some degree of hardness (i.e. dissolved minerals) but it is best to keep this to a minimum as well. If you observe all these guidelines on the water conditions then you should find that your cherry shrimp and betta can live long, happy lives together.
Tips and Tricks for keeping Cherry Shrimp and Betta
If you are intent on keeping this combination of aquatic species, then there are some things to keep in mind. By following these simple guidelines you will maximize your chances of success.
First of all, size matters. I’m talking about the size of your tank of course. In the wild Siamese fighting fish are used to congested waters so they might not need as much space as some other similar sized fish. Nevertheless, there is a minimum tank size.
You should not keep a betta in a tank which has a capacity of less than 10 gallons, especially with other fish or shrimp present. In general, smaller spaces make it more likely for different species to annoy each other or compete for resources, and this could provoke trouble in your tank.
For cherry shrimp, they don’t require much space either, but a good rule to follow is to allow 2-5 cherry shrimp per gallon of tank capacity.
Cherry Shrimp Population Problems
Cherry shrimp are prodigious breeders as well, so you need to keep a close eye on them. If their population threatens to explode, then this will threaten the health and balance of the ecosystem.
This will likely make your betta more tempestuous, and he will certainly strike out. In most cases, a betta will naturally keep the population of shrimp down by eating a lot of the young shrimp or fry. However, if not managed carefully this could promote infection or disease on your tank, which is every tank owner’s nightmare.
Cherry shrimp are sociable creatures, and they are more vulnerable on their own. Hence you should introduce them into the tank in small groups of 3 or 4. This should not startle your betta too much if it is managed carefully.
The best way to ensure there is harmony in your tank is to make sure that both species are well fed. If not, there will be a struggle for resources, and if the betta becomes desperate, they will not hesitate to attack weaker shrimp. Hence you should ensure that your betta is fed a nutritious diet which accounts for all its protein, vitamin and mineral needs.
A betta should be fed at least two or three times a day. The cherry shrimp will mostly be content to feed on scraps and algae, but you should also feed it its own sinking pellets or flakes for added benefits.
If you plan carefully and manage the situation well, cherry shrimp and betta can survive and even thrive in the same tank.
They are suited to the same water conditions, the cherry shrimp is unlikely to become prey, and for the most part the two species are happy to ignore each other.
This situation works best where you provide plenty of shelter for the shrimp, plenty of highly nutritious food for the betta, and do not allow the shrimp population to get out of control.
Also make sure the tank is of adequate size and is kept well filtered, clean, and clear. If you follow all the helpful hints and tips in this article then you might even find your cherry shrimp and betta becoming unlikely friends!