Home | Aquarium Livestock | Keeping the African Giant Filter Shrimp (African Fan Shrimp, Vampire Shrimp), Atya gabonensis, Part I

Keeping the African Giant Filter Shrimp (African Fan Shrimp, Vampire Shrimp), Atya gabonensis, Part I

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

The African fan shrimp is not well established in the aquarium trade, but interest is growing.  I have maintained a group for approximately 2 years, and have found them to be fascinating, if a bit challenging in some respects.  Their mode of feeding is particularly interesting, but requires a bit of attention as to “presentation”…I’ll write more about that in Part II of this article.


This shrimp inhabits rocky streams along the west coast of Africa, from Senegal to Gabon.  It is also recorded from the east coast of South America; however, the genus is not well studied and these populations may represent a different species.  Their natural history is not well-documented.

African fan shrimp are heavily-built and reach 4 inches in length.  The first 2 appendages are equipped with feathery bristles which are swept back and forth when the animal is feeding.  Most in the trade are tan to dark brown in color, but blue, yellow, pink and red specimens show up on occasion.


Captive Habitat

The Aquarium

A well-filtered 10 gallon aquarium will comfortably house 4-5 shrimp.  They seem quite social; I have keep 12 in a 55 gallon aquarium.  The tank should be well covered, in case they decide to explore by climbing filter tubes or heaters.

Heat and Light

I keep my fan shrimp at 76 F; their temperature range is reported to be 74-88F.

African fan shrimp only leave favored retreats at night, and then infrequently.

A Night Glo bulb  or similar bulb will allow you to view their nocturnal activities.


A rock or gravel substrate is preferable, as such is what would be found in their native habitat.  However, people keeping these shrimp on sand report no problems.  They do not negotiate bare-bottomed tanks well, and seemed stressed by the effort.

Physical Environment – Habitat Type and Terrarium Decorations

African fan shrimp are very shy and retiring, and require suitable shelters if they are to thrive.  Mine seem quite specific in their choice of a retreat – once they settle in, they remain within the same cave or shelter, even if others are available.  I have observed several shrimp to occupy the same small caves for 18 months.

They will utilize rock caves or artificial structures and ornaments.  Despite their need for privacy, the shrimp seem unconcerned about being on view through glass…caves positioned near the aquarium’s glass will allow easy observations.  They prefer a “tight fit” over a spacious cave, and many will remain within one shelter, usually in physical contact with one another, if able.  I’m not sure if they prefer to live in groups (field studies are in short supply) or not, but they certainly do well when provided with a cave that allows them to congregate.


Hailing as they do from fast-flowing streams, fan shrimp likely have high oxygen requirements, so be sure that your tank is adequately aerated.

They should be maintained at a pH of 6.5-7.4.  I use soft water, but this is not based on field research (in fact, water in rocky streams tends to be hard).

Like many invertebrates, fan shrimp are extremely sensitive to ammonia, and to copper and other chemicals that are found in fish medications.

I’ll finish up with feeding and  pass along a few observations next week.

We have much to learn about these and other fresh water shrimp… please write in with your questions and observations. Thanks, Frank Indiviglio.

A video of an African fan shrimp in the process of feeding is below:


  1. avatar

    Hi, I’ve got a few of these at home. Have had them for about 7 – 8 months. Mine are blue, but sometimes they turn into a bright red or orange color. Do you know anything about this? Have your done the same?

    //Gustav 🙂

  2. avatar

    Hi Gustav,

    Thanks for bringing this up…I’ve been meaning to post more about this shrimp, as new information has been coming to light lately. When they are kept in a group, one male will often turn red or orange in color, as you describe. It is believed to be related to dominance…their social structure may be more complicated than we once believed. However, there has not been a great deal of research into this as far as I can tell, so we still have much to learn. Animals kept singly will also turn orange or red, as mine have (I was unsure of what was going on at the time)…perhaps also related to hormonal surges, breeding etc but again no way to be sure yet. Please keep notes on what you observe..hopefully you can add to what we know about these fascinating shrimp, and please keep me posted, enjoy,

    In case you haven’t seen, here is a link to Part II of the article (nothing on color change) Frank

  3. avatar

    Thanks so much for your articles; especially these on Vampire Shrimp….next to Dario Daro by favorite aquatic critters.

    I’ve had Larry a little over a year. He’s around 3″ and in a 20 L community with a Plakat Betta, Ember Tetras, Red Sakura shrimp, Pygmy Cories and Neons. He stands his ground when it’s time to feed; not shy at all. Has a couple of Cholla caves and if he’s not out that’s where he can be found. He has a third “molting” Cholla tree stump that’s upright instead of on its side. When I see him climb into that I know it’s time for him to molt as that’s always where I find his carapace.

    Interesting critters. Wish I had discovered them much sooner in my 55 years of aquatic adventures!

    Thanks, again, for writing.


  4. avatar

    Today my usually very peaceful Atya (Muffin) chased a smaller Atya (Titch)out of her den and made a clicking noise quite audible and never done this before she’s so peaceful usually she often has cherry shrimp that walk or stand on her whilst she is feeding. Occasionally I have even seen her shoo them away even the really teeny weeny ones. The smallest Atya also sulked and dug a little hole under a shrimp tube stack and fed happily upside down a few days before. All of them are happy little critters but it was a new one on me. I know a few fish and shrimp/inverts that click but never expected a fan to do it she must have been cross! Wondered if anyone else has experienced a cross shrimp (excluding the usual suspects such as mantis etc.) or other amusing behaviour. (She’s not berried and she is the biggest Atya. Maybe Titch annoys her on occasion I suspect he might be little boy).

  5. avatar

    Hello Tigertiger, I haven’t heard of any Atya making a popping sound and haven’t found any other records of that behavior. They simply don’t have the claw structure needed to make a sound like that, unlike the similar saltwater Pistol Shrimps. Do you have gravel in the tank? I’d say it might be more likely that the shrimp or another tankmate may have been kicking up pieces of gravel that were hitting the sides of the tube, ornaments or sides of the tank and that may have been the “clicking” that you heard.

  6. avatar

    Hi, I am British but am living in Singapore. I have kept fish for many years but recently bought five of these fellows. I keep them in a 10 gallon tank. They are fascinating! Their colours range from pinkish to dark blue. One is white. All appear to be male.
    it was amusing to see one litterally throw one of his pals out of his tube yesterday. His pal ran back in only to be thrown out again!
    I put mulberry and guava leaves in the tank, as well as Indian Almond. They like spirulina pellets, and some nettle dried food for shrimps once it has soaked for a while.
    Do they eat their carapace after moulting, or should I remove it?

  7. avatar

    Hello Berenice, Vampire Shrimp molts are usually too thick and tough for other shrimp to bother with eating…you can remove the molt from the tank when you see it.

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.