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The Best Substrate For Shrimp: Caridina, Neocaridina And Planted Tanks

A key factor in choosing the best substrate for shrimp is the type of shrimp you plan to keep. So let’s take a look at the best substrate for your shrimp!

By Julie Millis
Last updated on

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Best Value Inert For Plants

Seachem Flourite Black

Best Caridina Premium

ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia

Best Inert For Root Feeders

Fluval Plant Stratum
red cherry shrimp

When it comes to shrimp tanks, choosing the best substrate for shrimp can be key to maintaining their health as well as helping your plants thrive. Whilst there are several considerations, the main factor is whether you keep Caridina or Neocaridina shrimp.

We’ve assessed some of the best substrates for shrimp and our top choice of active substrate for Caridina is ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia for its ability to lower and buffer your pH. And for Neocaridina, Seachem Flourite Black is perfect for plants while keeping a neutral pH.

But we’ve also covered several other active and inert substrates from various brands in the list below so that you can find the right one for your shrimp and your individual setup.

So let’s get started…

  1. Best Caridina Premium Substrate: ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia Version 2
  2. Best Value Inert For Plants: Seachem Flourite Black
  3. Best Inert For Root Feeders: Fluval Plant Stratum
  4. Best Alternative Caridina Substrate: LANDEN Aqua Soil Substrate
  5. Best For Large Size Substrate: Aqueon Plant & Shrimp Aquarium Substrate

Best Substrate For Shrimp Reviewed

We’ve used several of these substrates over the years, but we’ve specifically assessed them here given their suitability for Caridina and Neocaridina shrimp. This was based on factors including whether they are inert or active, average pH, and longevity.

1. ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia Version 2

Photo: Amazon.com

  • Substrate Type: Plant-based aquarium soil
  • Active or Inert: Active
  • Bag Weight: 5.3 lbs
  • Color: Black
  • Key Features: Formed from Japanese black soil, creates slightly acidic pH and buffers water, includes separate Amazonia supplement rich in organic components
  • Best For: Caridina Premium Substrate

ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia is a premium active substrate, and while this is reflected in the price, it’s one of the best substrates for shrimp if you keep Caridina such as Crystal or Amano’s. As its active, it will bring your pH down to around 6.0, which is perfect for many Caridina shrimp.

The 5.3 lb bag gives an even 1-inch layer coverage in a 5 gallon aquarium, but if you need deeper coverage for rooted plants there’s the 15.4lb ADA Amazonia option. In fact, this size will provide a good 1-inch layer in a 10 gallon aquarium too.

While many active substrates need replacing within 12 to 18 months, ADA Amazonia can last over 2 years. So you can avoid a cleaning job that’s messy and disruptive for your shrimp, and instead recharge your substrate’s nutrients and buffering capacity with fertilizer supplements.

In fact, ADA Amazonia comes with a supplement containing concentrated organics. For the 5.3 lb bag add about 1 ounce of supplement granules before your soil. This provides nutrients to your plant’s roots while minimizing leaching directly into your water, reducing algal blooms.

Be aware that ADA Amazonia is very nitrogen rich. While this is great for plant growth it will leach ammonium into your water when you set up your tank, which is likely to cause ammonia spikes. So make sure you cycle your tank for about 4 weeks before you add your shrimp.

2. Seachem Flourite Black

Photo: Amazon.com

  • Substrate Type: Clay gravel
  • Active or Inert: Inert
  • Bag Weight: 15.4 lbs
  • Color: Black
  • Key Features: Natural porous clay, supports planted aquariums, no gravel modifier needed, no chemical coating, pH neutral
  • Best For: Best Value Inert For Plants

If you are looking for an inert substrate for Neocaridina shrimp but want your planted tank to flourish, Seachem Flourite is a perfect choice. It’s also a similar price to other substrates on this list but the bag is much bigger at 15.4 lbs, making it great value too.

We always go for Seachem Flourite Black for shrimp tanks, as the jet black color is perfect for most shrimp given they prefer a dark substrate to camouflage themselves against and feel secure.

Although Flourite is not chemically coated and pH neutral, it is incredibly porous. This makes it very efficient at absorbing fertilizers and other nutrients from your water and supplying them directly to your plant’s roots. So you don’t need to use a gravel modifier like laterite.

Flourite is reasonably flat, so you need quite a bit to create a 2-inch layer for deep-rooted plants. But the 15.4 lb bag is plenty for a small 5 gallon shrimp tank. And because it’s baked clay gravel it won’t break down like soil-based substrates, so you won’t need to replace it!

While some owners report that Flourite Black needs to be well rinsed before use, it tends not to need quite as much as standard Flourite. Overall many owners praise this substrate for its jet black color, ease of maintenance, and ability to help their plants thrive.

3. Fluval Plant Stratum

Photo: Amazon.com

  • Substrate Type: Compressed volcanic soil
  • Active or Inert: Inert/ mildly active
  • Bag Weight: 8.8 lbs
  • Color: Rich dark brown
  • Key Features: Formed from mineral-rich volcanic soil, very mildly active – buffers water to around neutral pH, porous non-compacting granules
  • Best For: Inert For Root Feeders

Fluval Plant Stratum is not only designed to promote excellent growth of live plants, but it also supports shrimp too. It’s an unusual substrate in that it’s a volcanic soil yet, unlike other active aquarium soils, it’s only very mildly acidic and tends to maintain a neutral pH.

If you set it up with conditioned tap water the pH will only drop to about 6.8. Whilst this is just inside the pH range for many Caridina shrimp (pH 6.0 to 6.9), it’s actually a much better option for Neocaridina shrimp like Red Cherry that prefer a neutral pH.

Fluval Plant makes an excellent substrate for Neocaridina shrimp tanks as not only will it maintain a neutral pH for your shrimp, but because of the mineral-rich volcanic soil, it provides nutrients for root-feeding plants straight to their roots.

And unlike other active substrates, we found it doesn’t leech as much ammonium into your water so it can take less time to cycle your tank. As Fluval Plant is ultra porous it also does a great job of absorbing nutrients and supplying them to your plants in a controlled manner.

Many owners recommend not rinsing this particular substrate as it can cause your water to become cloudy, but if this does happen it should settle in 1 to 2 days. But overall many praise Fluval Plant for its ability to help their plants and shrimp flourish!

4. LANDEN Aqua Soil Substrate

Photo: Amazon.com

  • Substrate Type: Aquarium soil
  • Active or Inert: Active
  • Bag Weight: 10.0 lbs
  • Color: Black
  • Key Features: Natural aquarium soil rich in nitrogen, and organics including humic acid, porous structure
  • Best For: Alternative Caridina Substrate

Landen’s Aqua Soil is a great alternative substrate to ADA Aqua Soil if you plan to keep Caridina shrimp. It’s an active substrate, and while Landen says it can buffer your pH up to 7.0 it’s actually likely to be lower. It can even go down to pH 6.3 which is great for many Caridina.

The substrate’s grain size is about 3 to 5 mm so it won’t compact like sand. This means you won’t get anaerobic areas building up which can lead to harmful hydrogen sulfide being produced in your tank. It also gives great shelter to any baby fry your shrimp may have.

The 10 lb bag is more than enough to create a 2-inch layer in a 5 gallon aquarium for rooted plants, and the substrate will anchor them in place well while allowing roots to penetrate and pick up nutrients.

As well as containing nitrogen which is a key nutrient for many aquatic plants, Aqua Soil also contains humic acids. These help buffer the water for your shrimp in low pH conditions [1]. The porous structure also helps it absorb nutrients and deliver them to your plant’s roots.

Many owners point out that this substrate will cause ammonia spikes when first added to your tank, which is not unusual for an active substrate. So do ensure you properly cycle it for 3 to 4 weeks before adding your shrimp.

But overall many users praise Landen Aqua Soil for its ability to provide their plants with nutrients whilst being safe for Caridina shrimp like Blue Bolts by creating slightly acidic, soft water to help them thrive.

5. Aqueon Plant & Shrimp Aquarium Substrate

Photo: Amazon.com

  • Substrate Type: Clay gravel
  • Active or Inert: Inert
  • Bag Weight: 5.0 lbs
  • Color: Dark brown
  • Key Features: Clay-based aquarium substrate, spherical shape, approx. 5 to 6mm granule size, pH neutral
  • Best For: Large Size Substrate

Aqueon’s Plant & Shrimp substrate is an excellent option if you need an inert substrate for your nano aquarium. The 5.0 lb bag will cover a 5 gallon tank with around 1.5 inches of substrate which is enough for most small rooted plants.

One thing to remember is that the granules are quite large at around 5 to 6mm, about the size of a garden pea. This is great for allowing circulation of water and aeration through your substrate, but whether you want the look of a larger substrate comes down to personal taste.

The granules are also perfectly spherical and don’t give off much dust when you first open them, making them very easy to rinse and prepare. However, the spherical shape can make them tricky to landscape in your tank.

Once you add this to your tank the substrate goes from a dark brown to almost black. This is great for most shrimp as they prefer the cover that a darker substrate provides. And because of the shape, the granules won’t disintegrate meaning you won’t get a cloudy tank.

Overall many owners give great feedback on this substrate for being long-lasting and easy to maintain, keeping a neutral pH, and being great for Neocaridina shrimp!

How To Choose The Best Substrate For Shrimp

When setting up your nano aquarium for the first time it’s important to choose the right substrate for your shrimp. Understanding why this is important, what your shrimp needs, and what types of substrate are available will help you choose the best substrate for your shrimp.

blue bolt shrimp on black substrate

Why Is It Important To Choose The Best Substrate For Shrimp?

Using the best substrate for shrimp can be very important to your aquarium and the health of your shrimp. Let’s look at some of the key benefits. 

Helps Beneficial Bacteria Colonize

A key benefit of using the best substrate for shrimp tanks is, as with other aquariums, it gives a surface for beneficial bacteria to colonize. These bacteria, along with those on your biological filter media, break down ammonia as part of the nitrogen cycle to keep your tank healthy.

But it’s particularly important in a shrimp tank as your shrimp will graze heavily on this layer of biofilm. In fact, biofilm can make up a significant amount of a shrimp’s diet as it eats throughout the day [2].

Supports Planting Of Live Plants

When setting up your shrimp tank with live plants, the type of substrate can be key if you choose root-feeding species like Vallisneria. This plant takes most of its nutrients up via the roots and so the right substrate is important to ensure it absorbs them efficiently.

Some substrates are specifically designed for planted tanks, often containing nutrient-rich soil compressed into pellets. But while this will improve plant growth you’ll need to ensure the substrate is suitable for the type of shrimp you want to keep, which we’ll come onto shortly.

There are also many shrimp-compatible plant species, such as Java Fern, that take in nutrients via their leaves or stem-like structures called rhizomes [3]. In this case, the substrate becomes less important as the roots absorb little of the nutrients.

Maintaining Water Parameters And Buffering

Arguably the main factor when choosing the best substrate for shrimp is maintaining the right water parameters for your shrimp type. There are two main aquarium shrimp genera, Caridina and Neocaridina, and each needs quite different water parameters.

The type of substrate you choose can have a direct effect on these water parameters. Certain substrates are designed to lower the pH and buffer the water, i.e. keep the pH relatively constant [4]. Other substrates are inert and have no effect on your water parameters.

Before we discuss these substrate types, let’s look at Cardinia and Neocardinia shrimp in more detail along with their specific needs.

Caridina vs Neocaridina Shrimp

While shrimp from the genus Caridina are quite different from Neocaridina, and the two won’t interbreed, it’s impossible to tell by eye. 

The main differences in Neocaridina are a slightly differently shaped ‘jaw foot’ that passes food to the mouth, one of the legs used for swimming having a slightly larger and differently shaped tip, and another of the legs being thicker with more hairs, known as setae [5].

Shrimp from the genus Caridina include Crystal shrimp, Blue Bolt, King Kong, and Amano shrimp. Caridina shrimp need soft, slightly acidic water with the pH, general hardness (GH), and carbonate hardness (KH) kept very precisely.

Neocaridina shrimp include Cherry shrimp, Sunkist Orange, Yellow Goldenback, and Green Jade. These shrimp are more flexible in their water parameters but need a more neutral pH

The table below shows the key water parameters for Caridina vs Neocaridina Shrimp, but note these are approximate ranges and can vary by species.

Shrimp Type (Genus)pH RangeGH RangeKH Range
Caridina6.0 to 6.93 to 80 to 4
Neocaridina7.0 to 8.0 [6]4 to 82 to 4
Typical key water parameters for Caridina and Neocaridina shrimp

Active vs Inert Substrate

Active substrates are specifically designed to lower the pH of your water and keep it stable by acting as a buffer. They are often made from mineral-rich volcanic soils, or similar, compressed into pellets. This helps them release minerals over time in a controlled manner. 

Inert substrates are chemically inactive and won’t change your water parameters including pH, GH, or KH. Suitable inert types for shrimp tanks include aquarium sand, gravel, and baked clay substrates.

Note that at a glance some active compressed soil substrates can look similar to inert baked clay. Manufacturers will tend to clearly mark the type of substrate on the packaging though, so always be sure to check which you are buying. 

Pros And Cons Of Active Substrates

As well as lowering and buffering the pH to keep it slightly acidic and stable for Caridina shrimp, active substrates have other pros associated with them:

  • Plant Nutrition: Active substrates contain minerals and nutrients such as magnesium, nitrogen, phosphorus, iron, or zinc. These give root-feeding plants direct access to the right nutrients.
  • Large Pellets: Active substrate pellets are often around at least 3 mm and so won’t compact down like sand. This allows your plant’s roots to better penetrate the substrate and anchor themselves.

But active substrates do have a few cons to be aware of when using them too:

  • Active Life: After around 12 to 18 months active substrates will need to be replaced as they eventually lose their effectiveness and ability to buffer your water.
  • Break Down: As many of these substrates are soil-based, they also break down as they age turning to silt. So when you do come to replace them it can be a messy job.
  • Additional Ammonia: Because active substrates contain organic material they can often contain ammonia which can seep into your water, mainly when they are first added. So it’s important to fully cycle your tank and keep up with water changes.

Pros And Cons Of Inert Substrates

Inert substrates also have additional pros as well as not altering your water parameters to keep it pH neural for Neocaridina shrimp:

  • Wider Range: With inert substrates, you generally have the choice of sand, gravel, or baked clay. Gravel and baked clay won’t compact down so allowing good aeration of the substrate and room for plant roots to grow.
  • Stability: Unlike active substrates, inert ones won’t break down and can go for years without needing replacement.
  • Easy To Clean: As inert substrates don’t break down they create less mess and can be easier to clean with your aquarium vacuum.

However, inert substrates also have some cons to consider which can affect how you use them along with their maintenance:

  • Sand & Aeration: If you do opt to use sand in your shrimp tank make sure you gently swirl it every 2 weeks. As sand can compact down, it can cause areas where anaerobic bacteria can establish and produce harmful hydrogen sulfide.
  • Lack Of Nutrients: Inert substrates don’t contain additional nutrients for plants in the same way active substrates do. In many cases, you can still use them with live plants but you’ll need to add additional fertilizers such as using root tabs.

So Which Substrate Is Best For Each Shrimp Type?

As Caridina shrimp need softer water with a lower, stable pH it is recommended to use an active substrate in the majority of cases. This will also help you maintain their water parameters more precisely.

If you keep Neocaridina shrimp, you should use an inert substrate which will mean the pH remains more neutral. And because the carbonate hardness will generally be slightly higher, it acts as its own buffer to help maintain this neutral pH [7].

Crystal red bee shrimp on dark substrate

Further Considerations When Choosing The Best Substrate For Shrimp

Now we’ve looked at what substrate is suitable based on your shrimp type, let’s consider some other important factors to help your final decision.

Dark vs Light Substrate

Many of the substrates used in shrimp tanks are dark in color. This includes active soil-based substrates, as well as inert substrates like baked clay and many gravels. In contrast, sand can be much lighter. But which color is the best substrate for shrimp?

In the wild, shrimp are threatened by many predators including fish and invertebrates. The ability to blend into their environment is therefore very important, and shrimp have evolved to be able to color match themselves with the background.

If you use a light sand substrate, you’ll often find your shrimp will lose some of their color as they try to match their surroundings. On the other hand, using a dark substrate will often bring out their color as they try to deepen their coloration to match the substrate more closely.

In fact, studies on Red Cherry shrimp (Neocaridina davidi) have shown they have a preference for darker substrate as it provides better camouflage [8]. So a darker substrate is generally best for shrimp rather than a lighter one.

How Much Substrate Do You Need For Your Shrimp Tank?

Whichever substrate you use in your shrimp tank aim for at least a 1-inch layer at the bottom, or 2 inches if you are planning to keep root-feeding live plants. These plants need the extra depth to anchor themselves as well as to spread their roots and gather nutrients.

When working out how many bags of substrate you need, most aquarists use the rule that a pound of substrate per gallon will be needed for an even 1-inch layer. So in a 5 gallon tank, you’d need a 5 lb bag of substrate.

Preparing Your Substrate Before Use

Many aquarium substrates can be very dusty and need to be carefully cleaned before use, otherwise, you could end up with a cloudy tank. But how you clean and prepare them depends on the type of substrate.

Preparing Active Substrates

As active substrates are made with compressed soil they will generate some dust but need to be handled very carefully, or they can easily disintegrate. The best way to clean them is a very light rinse to remove the surface dust.

It’s also important to add the substrate carefully to your empty aquarium. Sit a bowl or lid on top of the substrate and add water to the bowl and let it cascade over the side. Filling your aquarium in this way stops your substrate from disintegrating or kicking up too much dust.

Preparing Inert Substrates

Inert substrates like gravel tend to be very dusty and need a lot of rinsing before use. Follow these steps before adding gravel to your shrimp tank:

  1. Use a 5 gallon bucket that you’ve set aside only for use with your aquarium. You don’t want to use a bucket that may have had detergents or other chemicals in it as these could harm your tank.
  2. Place a sieve on top of the bucket and fill about half to two-thirds full with your gravel.
  3. Pour water carefully over the gravel to rinse it. Having the bucket underneath will catch any gravel that falls through so you don’t lose it.
  4. You’ll notice the water in the bucket will become cloudy very quickly. It can often take about 4 or 5 rinses to clean your gravel fully, so repeat until the water is clear.
  5. Once you’ve fully washed your gravel you can place it in your tank. You’ll need to clean about 5 lbs of substrate to create a 1-inch layer in the bottom of a 5-gallon tank.

Our Verdict

One of the main considerations when choosing the best substrate for shrimp is whether you plan to keep Caridina or Neocaridina.

We found overall ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia is one of the best active substrates for Caridina as it will bring your pH down to around a suitable 6.0 and last for over 2 years without replacement.

Or if you need the best insert substrate for Neocaridina shrimp, Seachem Flourite Black is fantastic for absorbing nutrients and supplying them to your plant’s roots while maintaining a neutral pH for your shrimp.

FAQs

We’ve answered some of the top frequently asked questions when it comes to finding the best substrate for shrimp. Take a look at the answers below.

What Is The Best Substrate For Shrimp?

Active substrates like ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia are best for Caridina shrimp that need slightly acidic, softer water. Inert substrates like Seachem Flourite are best for Neocaridina shrimp.

Is Light Or Dark Substrate Better For Shrimp?

A dark substrate is usually the best substrate for shrimp. Studies in Neocaridina shrimp have shown they prefer it as it offers better camouflage and can make them feel more secure.

Can I Use Inert Substrate In A Planted Shrimp Tank?

If you are using live plants in a tank with Neocaridina shrimp you should use an inert substrate, but you’ll also need a fertilizer like root tabs. Use an active substrate with Caridina shrimp.

Can I Keep My Shrimp With No Substrate?

While you could keep shrimp without substrate it’s not recommended. If you keep Caridina shrimp, for example, it can be difficult to manage water parameters without an active substrate.

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AUTHOR
Julie Millis
Julie has been involved in aquatics for over 15 years. She is passionate about freshwater and saltwater tanks. Julie loves helping with all your fish-keeping questions!

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