Tales from the Tank

Apr 23, 2010 by Jared Smith

(Updates posted at the bottom)

I’m not much of a pet person, but when Mary showed up with a 20 gallon fish tank about 18 months ago, I relented (and by relented, I mean I didn’t have the energy to take it back to the store). So we set it up, threw a bunch of fish, snails, and frogs in there, and then watched them slowly die over the course of the next year. That’s not all we did – we also bought new ones to replace the ones that were dead. And then they died. We had mini funerals for them after fishing their rotting corpses out of the tank and before flushing them – at least for the ones that weren’t cannibalized by other fish. I was starting to wonder if they were suicidal.

Snail opts to commit suicide... due to peer pressure.

After almost all our fish died in one massive Jonestown-like event a few months ago, I’d had enough. I was running out of things to say at fish funerals. I was going to make this fish tank work, or it was going to storage. I spent countless hours reading about aquariums and ‘the cycle’ (no, not that kind of cycle) – a fancy term for letting nature keep the tank chemicals in balance. We’d been doing everything wrong.

Several months and the equivalent of the GDP of a small country later, we have a healthy, happy fish tank stocked with 5 Long Fin Black Skirt Tetras, 5 Rasboras, 1 Dwarf Gourami, 4 small Otocinclus, and 2 Mystery Snails.

What you lookin' at?

Last week, on a whim, I purchased 6 Ghost Shrimp. These are tiny, almost transparent shrimp. They were $.33 each – what did I have to lose (besides $1.98)? They are all doing well and are fun to watch. They eat fish poop. To our surprise, we found that one of the shrimp was full of little green… things. We checked the internets and it said that our shrimp have been bumping uglies behind our backs! A shrimp with the preggers! She had around 25 tiny shrimp inside her.

Do I look fat?

I read further that the mother will eventually push out the tiny shrimp balls which pop out into gangly, slimy things with a massive head, dangling tentacles, and an inability to do anything but eat and poop, and then they’ll immediately be eaten by other fish. This sounded exactly like the birth of my children, minus the eaten by fish part. Having witnessed enough tank carnage, I determined that I would spare them this barbaric death.

I moved mother shrimp to a small fish bowl with lots of fish poop/food and a cool thing which makes bubbles. I read that baby shrimp like to eat something called “Green Water” – water that is green because it so infested with algae and tiny microorganisms, which apparently baby shrimp find delicious. Of course shrimp eating thousands of tiny organisms is much less barbaric than fish eating a couple dozen tiny shrimp, right?

My plan was to start a fetid bowl of Green Water this weekend, but today, tiny baby shrimp started popping out of their mother.

Post-partem depression... already.
(to give an idea of scale, that tube is 1/4″ wide)

A new one is arriving every 20 minutes or so. And the ones that are still attached to mom are active and anxious to find freedom.

A happy family?
Notice the tiny, pleading eyes. How could I not try to save that???

So I have a jar full of the nastiest stuff imaginable under a newly purchased bright light in my living room. I’m hoping that it somehow turns into shrimp food before the microscopic baby shrimp starve to death or are eaten by their post-partum depressed mother. I’ve spend hours on this project. I cheer each time a new, almost invisible shrimpette pops out and swims to freedom.

I am starting to wonder about myself. All this for the offspring of a $.33 shrimp?

Assuming this all works and by some miracle these little fellas make it, I’ll soon be the proud owner of a crapload of shrimpies. And if it doesn’t turn out? Well, there’s always a nice scampi…

Stay tuned…

Update 1

Mom is almost done dropping the kids. I snagged this short video of it. You can see a bunch of wee ones floating about.

The babies aren’t really inside her, they’re just stored up under her swimmerets (which I now understand to be a fancy word for small swimming fins, not a type of water-proof diaper).

Update 2

Mom is finally done. As the last child swam free, she did what many women do after childbirth – she reached up and pulled her own face off! She then proceeded to tear off all of her skin. Seeing her molt was one of the coolest, freakiest things I’ve seen (though not quite as cool as that one time when I saw a cow pull another cow’s placenta out with its teeth – that was COOL!).

Mom looks on at her own skin
Here she looks on from a distance at her newly shed skin.

Shrimp babies
A few of her many young ones get a good look at mom (moments before she eats them?)

I’ve gained a new appreciation for this amazing animal called the shrimp. How inappropriate that name. I’d never call anything a “shrimp” that gives birth to 28 babies in 12 hours then tears it’s own epidermis off in celebration. I will never look at shrimp the same… unless well doused in cocktail sauce.

Update 3

It has been two days since the “shrimpening” (as it has come to be known) and most of the baby shrimp are dead. Either they are hiding somewhere in the bowl, were eaten by mother, have somehow evaporated, or were added by Mary to tonight’s delicious teriyaki chicken. I can count five still swimming around – which is five that are not fish food, so I consider that a success… so far.

Update 4

It took me a few days to place where I had seen the baby shrimp before. They look just like a very miniaturized version of Alien (you know, from the old Sigourney Weaver movies).


If the missing baby shrimp suddenly pop out of my chest one day, then we’ll know for sure what happened.

Update 5

Failure! The little shrimp have all now died. They are now ghost shrimp, literally. I guess the environment just wasn’t properly established to sustain miniature shrimp. Most of the babies died shortly after the ‘shrimpening’, which I suppose is not a whole lot different and perhaps slightly less shocking than quickly being consumed by other fish. One little guy held out for a week or so, and we did our best to nurture and care for him, but he soon relented to the harsh grasp of invertebrate death. Mother is coping with the loss as well as can be expected though she’s splurging on fish feces and does not associate well with the other adult shrimp. We’re hoping that time will bring her comfort at the premature deaths of her 30 or so offspring.

It sure was a fun experiment! And it appears that another is starting to form eggs…

  1. 5 Responses to “Tales from the Tank”

  2. I am disturbed by the vast amount of time you have spent with your shrimp.

    By Kris on Apr 24, 2010

  3. Just yesterday our boys got a 20 gallon tank from their grandma for their birthdays. Note to self: don’t buy shrimp.

    (However, I was very entertained by this post.)

    By Erin on Apr 24, 2010

  4. Great Post! You never cease to amaze me with your wit, humor and interest in strange (but true) phenomenon. You are destined for greatness, unlike your shrimp. What a great way to teach your children the wonders of life and how to find the answers to their questions.

    By eva on Apr 25, 2010

  5. Thanks for documenting your shrimp journey! It helped us to understand our own preggers shrimp, Voldemort, and what has happened in our tank. Your stories were funny and entertaining too!

    By Floral on Feb 28, 2012

  6. My boyfriend got some shrimp to feed our Oscar fish a few days ago and I couldn’t help but notice the pregnant one in the clear bag. So I scooped it out and put it in my sea monkey jar… I added some snails too. Thanks for the very funny story. I hope my shrimp make it.

    By Jen on Jun 23, 2014

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.