Home | Aquarium Livestock | Keeping the African Giant Filter Shrimp (African Fan Shrimp, Vampire Shrimp), Atya gabonensis, Part 2

Keeping the African Giant Filter Shrimp (African Fan Shrimp, Vampire Shrimp), Atya gabonensis, Part 2

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here. Please see Part I of this article for further information.


Giant Fan ShrimpThe fan shrimp’s unique mode of feeding is very interesting to observe.  The first 2 appendages are lined with plume-like bristles which are waved about when food is detected.  Tiny organisms, organic detritus and algae are trapped in these and transferred to the mouth.  Fan shrimp will also pick food particles from the substrate, in more “typical shrimp” fashion, and I have several times observed them feeding on dead fish (at night).

If you keep fan shrimp with fish, it is important to introduce food at night, just before you turn out the lights…the shrimp will rarely get enough to eat otherwise.  I keep a few yo-yo loaches, Kuhli loaches and armored cats with mine, but beware of adding too many nocturnally-feeding fish.

Unlike many shrimps with specialized feeding adaptations, these accept nearly any pelleted or freeze dried food.  One of the few published reports on their feeding habits in the wild (please see below) established that fan shrimp are omnivorous, with algae forming a major part of the diet.  I therefore provide my shrimp with both plant and animal foods.  I use algae  and shrimp tablets as a basis of the diet, alternated with flake and freeze dried foods.  Liquid invertebrate food  may also be squirted into their hiding places.

African fan shrimp begin waving their feeding appendages about as soon as food is sensed.  I usually drop algae tabs or other foods right near them, after which they will move over it and begin waving away.  If you look closely, you’ll be able to see fine particles of food lodge in the brushes as the tablet dissolves.

My fan shrimp do not gravitate towards the filter outflow in order to trap food, as do the Singapore wood shrimp (Atyopsis moluccensis) which share their tank.  They will, however, filter fine food particles from whatever water currents pass by their lairs.  Some suggest keeping these shrimp in well-established tanks that house high populations of diatoms and other micro-organisms.  Certainly this is a good idea, but as we know little of their actual food intake needs, I would suggest that shrimp in these situations be fed as described above as well.

Social Grouping/Compatible Species

African fan shrimp do exceedingly well in same-species groups; I have also kept them with Singapore wood shrimp, Atyopsis moluccensis, Japanese marsh shrimp, Caridina japonica and cherry shrimp, Neocardina denticulate.  Small, peaceful community fish such as guppies, zebra danios, cherry barbs and so on are also fine, but please see the feeding cautions above.

Alternatively, you can house fan shrimp with fish that do not compete for food, i.e. live food specialists such as elephant-nosed morymids and butterfly fish (both of which are also native to West Africa, although not to the same habitat-types).

Small and large cichlids, carnivorous catfish and crayfish will attack fan shrimp.

Captive Longevity

Unpublished reports set captive longevity at just over 5 years.


Anecdotal reports claim breeding success in heavily-planted outdoor ponds.  The young are said to be planktonic for a period of 2-3 weeks after hatching, which would certainly complicate matters in an aquarium.  I plan to look into this further and report back.


Giant Fan ShrimpFan shrimp are, as mentioned, very much oriented to a specific home cave, being more like crayfish than shrimp in this regard.  I imagine (but this has not been established) that such holds true in the wild as well.  I have observed them to become quite stressed if routed from their retreats.  In most cases, they wander about, often for days, before returning to the cave.

Be extremely careful when working around them, and avoid moving or re-arranging their caves.  I usually forego cleaning the glass directly in front of their caves, unless I happen to catch the shrimp “away from home” on rare foraging forays.  In those cases I’m always careful to return the rocks to their original position – a slight change in their shelter’s height or depth has seemingly caused my shrimp to seek “new accommodations”.

We have a great deal to learn about this and other freshwater invertebrates… please write in with your questions and comments. Thanks, Frank Indiviglio.

Very little has been published about this species in its natural habitat.  An interesting article concerning field research with fan shrimp in Nigeria is posted at:



  1. avatar

    Nice article.

    I wonder what youre source is on the breedingchapter of this article?


  2. avatar

    My African Filter Shrimp died just today after being caught out in the open just after molting. Their exo-skeletons are very soft then and he couldn’t make it from where he climbed out of his shell to his safe cave in time. very sad!

    Lovely creatures and like to hang around a specific part of the tank.

  3. avatar

    Hello Keli, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    Sorry to hear about your shrimp but thank you for bringing up an interesting point; I’ve noticed the same with several of my animals. As you say, they do stay to one area. Mine favor caves in which they can fit very snugly – with no room to spare. I think this is why they need to move out into the open to shed. I’m experimenting with caves that allow them a very snug, narrow place to hide, but that also provide a larger area that has enough room to shed, but still offers some protection.

    Also – again just a theory, but they need a good deal of calcium to form the new exoskeleton. While algae tablets http://www.thatpetplace.com/pet/group/10807/product.web and similar foods are good as a basic diet, I also include shrimp pellets http://www.thatpetplace.com/pet/group/10785/product.web as a Calcium source as well.

    Good luck and please keep me posted; we have a great deal to learn about these fascinating creatures, so any observations you might provide would be most appreciated.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  4. avatar

    Hi, I’ve been breeding cherry shrimps for some time and I’m looking into breeding Vampire Shrimps.. I wonder, have you had any luck in breeding these guys yet?? Most of the information I’ve read said that the larva need brackish to full strength sea water to live, whats your take on this?

  5. avatar

    Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    Interesting and very worthwhile project. I have read the same, and, while it is possible that they migrate to the sea to breed, there are populations far enough inland to make this unlikely (but not impossible). I did read of a successful breeding in an outdoor pond, but no details were provided. It may be, as suggested to me by a colleague, that a rise in pH or perhaps salinity is needed – this is the case with many fishes and amphibians that live in shallow streams and ponds – as water levels drop in the dry season, salts, minerals and dead plants change the water chemistry – rains then decrease the salinity and lower the ph – the change is definitely critical to some species, and may be so for Vampire Shrimps. Another difficulty may be that more than 1 species is entering the trade, which confuses what little is known about their biology – we really have much to learn.

    I’ve had a group for over 2 years without any breeding activity, but all I’ve manipulated is temperature. You might consider dropping the water level, increasing temperature by 5F or so, and very slowly raising pH. Adding a bit of salt might be to much, perhaps choose salt or ph. After a month or so, rapidly increase water level and drop temperature back to normal….unfortunately, I’m speculating from work with other species, so no guarantees!

    Good luck, keep at it and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  6. avatar

    awesome write up.

  7. avatar

    Hi, we have one of those guys in our aquaponics tank. He used to be doing very well in there enjoying the current the system makes. He has been there for about 1 year now and has molted at least 3 if not 4 times. Ours is reddish or pink in color very cool little guy. He lives in one rock that is actually a cave for shrimp. He shares it with a bumble bee cat fish and a ton of snails. We have put other caves in there but he never goes in the other ones.
    I think he is a hardy shrimp because there was a time we were gone for over a week and there was no one that could go take care of our fish so when we came back all the water in the tank was almost evaporated- there was 3 fingers of water left on the bottom, and he plus all the fish was fine although very freaked out. Now we are changing the type of fish in the tank and I have read he won`t feel good with cichlids and that is what is going into this tank. I want to move him to our 10 gal. tank that he can share with guppies. My question is if the tank is filtered with a sponge filter and has a separate air rock, is this going to make enough curent for the little guy to live in there. Also we have been adding a little salt to the water, should we do a few water changes untill we get the salt out of the water before we add him. If you have any information about that it will be great. I think the cichlids will be too much for him.

    Another thing i have read is when they mold you can leave they their shelf in the tank and they will eat it and it will give them the needed calcium, we do that and actually the shelf is gone in a few days not sure if he eats it or the fish does.

    Thanks for reading this. Have a good day

  8. avatar

    I think you’re right to be concerned about leaving him with cichlids. Bad idea, as even if they don’t bother the shrimp to begin with, he would become a quick meal when he molts and is soft and vulnerable, they also prefer soft water, so unless you’re talking about docile species of South American or West African cichlids like dwarfs it won’t work out long term. The shrimp can move to where the current in the tank is suitable, and you might add a spray bar or small circulation pump to help make the current a little stronger. These shrimp hail from fast moving freshwater streams so salt, even in small amounts might impact them negatively…watch the levels closely if you try to mix them in the guppy tank.

  9. avatar

    Hello there! I need some insight on how I can get one of my viper shrimp out from under one of my resin decorations. It’s a pretty big decoration with a small hole directly at the bottom that my pleco uncovered from the gravel And now my shrimp is making it its home. The problem is I want to replace the big resin decoration with actual wood but I have no idea how I am going to get him out of it if he decides to crawl in further if I take it out !

  10. avatar

    Hi Erica…tricky little guy! I think your best option would be to surprise the shrimp after dark, when it is out foraging. Perhaps keep it hungry for a bit and then feed after dark. Have a net ready to block hole…some of mine would bolt directly for their shelters when disturbed. Do not turn tank lights on in a dark room..can shock fish/inverts. Rather, use the room lights or a small flashlight. I hope all goes well, pl let me know.Best, Frank

  11. avatar

    My vampire shrimp for the past 2 days has been trying to escape it looks like!! He no longer hides and is always swimming to the top of my tank and completely out of the water onto my filter or chills with its head above the water! All my other shrimp and fish are fine but he keeps doing this!!! Can anyone help me out

  12. avatar

    Hello Zach,

    My initial responsive would have been to check pH, ammonia, temps etc, but since all others are fine, I’m puzzled. I’ve not seen this in shrimp. Crayfish and aquatic frogs and turtles will try to leave the water due to tank-mate aggression..perhaps watch at night, via red light or flashlight, when others may be harassing this individual? Please keep me posted, I’m interested to learn what you may find. You might also try setting the animal up in a small tank, with the same water, to see if it changes behavior. best, frank

  13. avatar

    Hi there

    I just got one of these shrimp today , when I opened the box and look in the bag it appeared dead upside down on its back . It would seem it was playing dead as when places in my tank it bolted under some drift wood . Im thinking of adding some micro organisms, do you know much about these things?

  14. avatar

    Hello Tom,

    I have seen similar behavior, but have found an explanation – could be as you suggest, or due to trauma (stress of transport), change in water chemistry etc. What types of micro-organisms are you considering? Best, frank

  15. avatar

    Hi Frank

    The shrimp is alive and well, its behind some wood and hard to see, i ordered some shirakura microorganism feed which apparently helps raise microorganisms it just arrived , thought it might help ?

  16. avatar

    Hi Tom,

    That could be useful, please let me know if you see any changes/benefit. Best regards, Frank

  17. avatar

    Hi Frank

    I thought the powder was micro orgs like sea monkey style. Its actually food. However it seems to float and the shrimps dont seem thst interested. I actually thought my African shrimp was dead i didnt see it for 4 months but spotted it last night. Do you think it would be more active with others? Iv only got small non aggressive tank mates .

  18. avatar

    Hello Tom, These shrimp are nocturnal and will typically only come out and become active at night. They can be kept in groups but even that may not encourage them to come out during the day when they are naturally less active.

  19. avatar

    Hi Tom,I have bought two baby vampire shrimps,About an inch long ,I would say,Put them in my tank with great hiding spots an tree bushes,With air bubbles and water currents,I saw them only one time when i put them in on that first day,Sorta hiding you know?,When night time came,I turned the lights from the fish tank,Next day i came to try and search for them,I do have two small 3 inch angel fish in there,And some small glo fish too,two small sharks,Its been over a week now,I feel like my angel fish must have eaten them in the dark,Can fish see that well to have eaten them? Or what you think happened?Sometimes i wonder can those shrimp become invisible,They are called ghost shrimp too, Arent they?But most of all what happened to them?

  20. avatar

    Hello S. Causey, These shrimp are very good at hiding…it is possible that they are still in there and under something in your tank. That said, I couldn’t say if your fish have even them or not. I wouldn’t expect a 3-inch angelfish to have eaten a Vampire Shrimp and leave nothing behind for you to find later but angelfish are cichlids and can be territorial so anything new added to “their” tank may be picked on. I haven’t heard of these shrimp being referred to a “Ghost Shrimp”. That name usually referred to a smaller and more transparent kind of shrimp usually used as a live feeder.

  21. avatar

    Hi Frank. I have a question that I haven’t been able to find an answer to anywhere. How long does it usually take a vampire shrimp to molt?
    Mine has been flailing around for most of today (about 8 hours so far since I first noticed), and so far only appears to have freed its fans.
    My knight gobies and Odessa barb were going after it so I put it in a breeding separator to keep it safe for now.
    Is there anything I can do to help the little guy out, or do I just have to wait? I’ve never noticed my vamp struggling like this before.



  22. avatar

    Hi Amy, Frank is no longer with our blog but I’d be happy to help you out. The exact duration of a molt can vary depending on the shrimp and conditions but 8 hours or more is definitely much longer than I would expect. Once they start molting, they are on their own to finish but making sure the water has enough trace elements to help its shell reharden will help. Shrimp can normally get enough from the water but if your water is exceptionally “clean” or you use a source like RO/DI water that removes all of the minerals, you may need to replenish them. A product like RO Right helps to re-add these minerals and an Iodine supplement will help with molts as well. Removing the other animals that were harassing it while it molts was definitely a good choice.

  23. avatar

    Thanks for the information, Eileen. Much appreciated.

  24. avatar

    Hi I hope you can help. My armoured shrimp was in a tank with 2 goldfish, they got white spot when I added a butterfly pleco I didn’t quarantine. I treated them with anti white spot treatment but they have died. My shrimp has now got a whiteish fuzzy coating all over him. I have searched the Internet but can’t find what this could be. Can you suggest what could be wrong or what I can do to help get rid of the fuzz? Thanks!

  25. avatar

    Hello Z Marks, It is hard to diagnose what you are referring to without seeing it, but it sounds like the shrimp may have gotten a fungal infection or had an issue while molting. By “white spot”, are you referring to Ich or some other parasite? What did you use to treat it? Most treatments for parasites are not safe for use with inverts and would lead to the death of shrimp or any others inverts. I would get some carbon in there right away to remove the medication and do a partial water change on the aquarium but if it is a molting issue, there is unfortunately not much else you can do aside from clearing the toxin out of the water to give the shrimp a chance to recover.

  26. avatar

    Hi, Is the information correct that blue color of the shrimp determines the harder water ? for example blue as this shrimp – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBOQoauPWKM.

    Thank you.

  27. avatar

    Hello Atya, The short answer is….yes and no. Crustacean color changes in general can be driven by the minerals in the water that are available to them to create their shell as they molt. Since water hardness is connected to mineral content as well, there can be some connection between color changes and water hardness but I wouldn’t say that a particular shrimp color can determine or be determined by water hardness alone. Other water parameters, diet and even social structure can affect the color of a Vampire Shrimp and they have been known to change color relatively quickly.

  28. avatar

    I have had fan shrimp in two of my tanks for over 10 years (purchase them when my local pet store closed). I have notice a difference is sizes over the years. I am assuming they have reproduced. No salt has been added to the water and the tanks are loaded with algae. At times the water was so green you can not see into them. These tanks were neglected for the longest time since I thought they were empty, using the green water to feed fry. So I am sure they have reproduced and that very rich algae tanks with no water changes are needed to get then to breed.

  29. avatar

    I got one of these guys a few months ago. For the first few days I could find him, in different areas each time. But them he must’ve found a good spot and I haven’t seen him since. It’s in a 75 gallon community tank (mostly tetras, guppies, cories, and rainbows).
    I previously had one that I had not seen for many months and had presumed lost, until one day I found its body (apparently recently dead, not picked on or getting fuzzy/slimy). With the current one, I haven’t seen any signs of him one way or the other.
    After reading this blog, I thought maybe I should’ve at least seen molts, but I don’t know how frequently they need to molt? I have a lot of plants in the tank, live and artificial, so there’s lots of places to collect stuff, plus I have a decent colony (~20-25) ghost shrimp rummaging around.
    Are they really that good at hiding to not be seen for months on end? Even when looking every possible angle, short of disturbing everything?

  30. avatar

    Hi Ken, They can certainly hide themselves well. They usually have a “home base” as was discussed here and unfortunately, that might not always be somewhere visible. It may be in a cave, under or even in an ornament, around dense plants or anywhere else it feels most comfortable. The molt frequency depends on a lot of factors like temperature, feeding, stress, water parameters and others but is usually around every couple of months or so. If you have a lot of scavengers in the tank, they may be taking care of any molts before you see them.

  31. avatar

    Hi there!

    I have a 73g fish tank with a black moor, trumpet snail, and an albino bristlenose pleco. It has 2 long air stones, 4 live plants, no substrate, a cave, and a couple of pots with cave-like entry points. It has a pretty strong filter as well (FX4), and LED lights.

    I would absolutely love to add something to my tank that would help eat the leftover algae tablets (my pleco doesn’t eat the whole thing) or fish flakes. However, I don’t want to create any issues for the existing inhabitants or any future inhabitants.

    Would any shrimp be able to live happily in this environment without being consumed (or without somehow hurting the other inhabitants)? I was hoping the larger type would be fine (Amano Shrimp and Bamboo/African Shrimp).

    What about a non-goldfish?

  32. avatar

    Hi Mag, Goldfish are a coldwater fish and most other fish including the pleco as well as those shrimp are tropical (warm-water) animals. I wouldn’t recommend mixing goldfish with tropical fish and inverts. Those shrimp also wouldn’t eat enough of the leftover food to keep the tank very clean. You can try breaking the algae pellet into a smaller piece before feeding if it is too much for the pleco and snail to eat. You could try a small loach or catfish that are more scavengers than the pleco but it is hard to say if they would do well in the longterm in the temperature and water conditions of the goldfish. Since you don’t have substrate, you could also use a small net or tank vacuum to remove the uneated food between water changes.

  33. avatar

    Hi. I have had 3 of these shrimps in a community tank for a few months now. One of them has changed colour and his body has brown and white stripes! Does he need help?!! Any advice gratefully received… thank you 🙂

  34. avatar

    Hi Jayne, It is probably fine…shrimp like these tend to change colors when they molt depending on their environment (to blend in better) and what minerals are available when they form their new shell. As always, test the water quality to make sure everything is good, but its probably just a completely normal color change!

  35. avatar

    I would like to add to the blog that if you do not have a good hiding place (coconut shells or any other man made cave) these cool critters will dig up a hole underneath the rock. DO NOT use any flashlights on them during the night as they might die due to shock. Mine is hiding and going out at night.

  36. avatar

    My vampire shrimp somehow made his way into the hang-on filter. He seems to be doing fine. Should I just leave him alone or try and re-locate him back into the tank?

  37. avatar

    Hi Cal, That’s up to you. It would probably be fine in there as long as there is no danger of it getting sucked further into the filter or near the impeller. If there is, I would get it back into the tank where it would be safer.

  38. avatar

    I have just bought two African shrimps.
    Having read all the above questions answers and comments I am confident that all my conditions are right for them.
    Thank you to everybody who has posted

  39. avatar

    Hi there, I’ve been a tropical fish keeper for many years and never kept a shrimp of any kind. While being served to a love plant attached to a rock, there was a giant Africa shrimp hanging on and I decided to home him too, he is such a cool addition to my aquarium, I find him fascinating and so far, seems to have settled in well. I spend ages searching for him in the tank. I did however disturb his first chosen cave so I’m not sure where he has set up home in at the moment, but I gets glimpses of him still love them
    Reading above has been very informative, does anyone know what the rate of growth is??

  40. avatar

    Hi Debbie, Vampire Shrimp don’t grow very fast but the growth rate of any shrimp depends on how much food it is getting. The more it is eating, the faster it will outgrow its shell and need to molt. At the same time…the more it molts, the more it needs trace elements in the water to help reform and harden its new shell so if your shrimp are getting fed a lot, be sure to make sure there is plenty of iodine and other trace elements in the water.

  41. avatar

    Hi, I bought a Vampire shrimp to be added to my community tank. I’m sure conditions are right, only thing I’m bit concerened about are my 3 small (2 inch) veil tail fancy goldfish and female (seemingly docile) betta. Tank is 150 litres, hevily planted and does cave caves. Should I get betta separate tank, and do goldfish pose a risk? I’m aware that “normal” goldfish need cold water, but fancies need heater.

  42. avatar

    Hello MrsP, All goldfish need cooler water; their requirements do not change between common and fancy varieties. We do not recommend mixing goldfish with tropical animals like bettas or shrimp due to the water temperature as well as the high amounts of waste they produce. The shrimp should be fine with the betta but I wouldn’t keep either the betta or the shrimp with the goldfish. That tank is also fairly small for 3 goldfish, and goldfish will eat live plants.

  43. avatar

    I have 4 African shrimp.i have had them 6 months.started off in a 32l tank.two are about 10cm now.the other two 4/5 cm. I noticed the larger one is very dominant .will kick them out of their tunnel or coconut .they would back off quick if it came towards them.i have now moved the two bigger ones to a 64l tank .it also has a few tetra and a few guppy. They now have much more space but still the larger one seams to find the slightly smaller one and goes into the coconut and pushes him out.once out he will leave the coconut himself so it’s not even like he wants to use it himself . Is this normal. The other 3 have always been so gentle and placid .
    Fantastic animals to watch though.mine are also out in the day time. Witnessed the largest one molt in the day time right at the front of the tank .amazing .wow.

  44. avatar

    Hi my husband has bought me 2 armoured shrimp to go into my main shrimp tank I was wondering is there a way to tell if they are male or female please or is telling the sex the same a normal cherry shrimp

  45. avatar

    Hi Zabrina, There is no reliable way to tell gender between male and female Atya gabonensis. It is generally thought that males will get larger and be more active than females but this is obviously comparative and not a very reliably way to determine gender. Feel free to let us know if you have any other questions or concerns, and enjoy your new shrimp!

  46. avatar

    My African Shrimp has crawled in a cave i feel is too small for it. I think he is stuck because he hasn’t come out in 3 days not even to eat. I dont know what to do i dont wont it to die

  47. avatar

    Hi Ludia, If it got in, it can likely get out just fine and trying to force it out can cause more damage and stress. As discussed here and in Part 1, these shrimp are nocturnal and will usually only leave their caves at night. It may just be coming out when you can’t see it.

About Frank Indiviglio

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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.