How To Cycle A Shrimp Tank?

How To Cycle A Shrimp Tank

We all human beings prefer to get everything brand new but our shrimps like the opposite. They will thrive in a mature tank, not in a brand new tank. In this article, I will try to clarify how to cycle a shrimp tank safely to make it livable and comfortable for our little tank habitats.

You can cycle your shrimp tank mainly in 3 ways: keeping the fish-in, introducing fish-food, and introducing pure ammonia where you have the option to combine the second and third methods or do them separately.

When cycling a shrimp tank, our goal is to produce ammonia and convert it to nitrite and then nitrate with the help of some beneficial bacteria.

So, for the beginner, it is important to know what is the cycling process in a shrimp tank.

What Is Cycling?

Cycling refers to removing all the toxins from your water and keeping a natural balance in the tank because you may have known so far that your shrimps don’t like change in their life.

Very small amounts of ammonia are enough to put a massacre in your shrimp colony. In an uncycled tank, shrimps are exposed to high levels of ammonia and nitrite. So, you can predict what is going to happen if you do so, can’t you?

Ammonia produced from respiration, biological waste, etc. is absorbed in the environment naturally. But in your closed tank, it becomes a big problem until new colonies of bacteria grow and counter the waste produced by the shrimp. The process that converts this toxic ammonia to the less toxic nitrate is called a ‘cycle’.

If you can keep the balance between your tank and your shrimps, the cycle goes on naturally.

I will go through the detail later in this article for clearing any confusion of the beginners.

Abhisek Mallick, a prominent Indian shrimp expert, notes one of the most common mistakes made by beginners is failing to properly cycle their aquarium.

Mallick has seen that ensuring the aquarium cycles for a minimum of 3 weeks is crucial, as the growth of beneficial bacteria during this period converts toxic ammonia into less harmful nitrates and nitrites.

The Methods Of Cycling A Tank

You may have already seen different methods and are confused about which one will be the best for you. Here I am covering three methods of cycling where the second and third methods are more popular and risk-free as these two are fishless methods.

The first one is basically for professionals who can handle and minimize the risk of the fish-in process.

1. Classical Method Or Fish-In Method

The classical method of cycling a new tank is putting some new shrimps in the tank and starting the cycle (often called starter fish, suicide fish).

Though the tank is able to cycle itself in this process costing no effort on your part, you should have the mental preparation to sacrifice some of your shrimps through the process to save the others! Yes, just like the mythology!

If you have already bought shrimps for your new tank, probably you are left with this only option.

So, Why Are You Putting These Starter Fishes?

These shrimps will provide ammonia through respiration, biological waste, and decaying food (that you will give them to eat). The ammonia will ensure the growth of the first set of nitrifying bacteria colony initiating the cycling process.

Now, you may think isn’t it paradoxical to input ammonia to get rid of ammonia. It is just like taking vaccines/germs (all of us know that those are actually the same germs that cause a particular disease) to make your body fight against the same germs.

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In this process, ammonia and nitrites will reach at the peak causing a disastrous state for the shrimps.

Here the ‘Survival of the fittest’ law will work and some of your shrimps will survive through the hazardous state, but in some cases, their life expectancy will decrease. Others will sacrifice their life for the shrimpkind!

So, when your test kit will show 0 for ammonia and nitrite, your cycle is complete. It has no certain periods of how much it will take. In most of the cases, it will complete within 1 or 1.5 months.

2. Using Fish Food To Initiate The Cycle

This is a fishless cycling method for your shrimp tank which is more fish-friendly than the classical method because it costs no harm to your shrimps’ lives.

To speed up the cycling process of your tank, I recommend you to seed it with supplies from matured tanks- gravel, filter cartridges, filter media, bio wheels, driftwood, and rocks. If you have already a shrimp tank you can use that filter with new substrate and soil.

Seeding your tank will significantly boost up this process and sometimes complete it even in one-third time.

Bacteria colonies clinch to these supplies, so with the seeding process, you are inviting existing bacteria colonies to your new tank. The decaying food that you will put is going to provide food (ammonia) to your new guests to get established and propagate in your tank.

If you cannot manage any pre-seed filter for your tank, then you have to start from the first. Set up your tank first. Get filter, heater, light, protein skimmer (in case of marine and reef tanks), etc. Get everything new, with no seeded media. Keep the heater to a temperature around 80° F.

Once you set up the tank, put in a piece of food (raw prawn, dead snails, fish, or decaying shrimp or food) in your tank and it will break down, and the decaying food will start producing ammonia which is the starting of your cycle.

This fishless cycling method will cost the same time as it does in classical cycling. However, the ammonia released from the food may not create enough bacteria colonies to keep your fish when you will put them in the tank. This may increase the high growth of ammonia and nitrites that will in return increase the bacteria colonies.

A tank has been properly cycled when ammonia and nitrites are at zero ppm. At this time, you can introduce your shrimps to the tank. Even if you let the tank sit for a certain period, the bacteria will need food to survive.

3. Introducing Pure Ammonia To Initiate The Cycle

Another way of cycling your tank without introducing any shrimp where you can directly apply pure ammonia to your tank instead of using fish food for ammonia release.

I will recommend it if you are a beginner and discuss it in a little more detail. Professionals also prefer this method to keep the sand and rock alive that they sell in their stores.

So, let’s see how this method works.

Step 1-Nitrite From Ammonia Drops

Once you set up your tank, add five drops of pure ammonia per ten gallons of tank water daily. First, calculate how much water your tank does contain to ensure the right amount of ammonia.

Thus, ammonia can rise to five ppm or higher. When nitrites will show their shadow in the test kit, lower the ammonia input to three drops per day.

Step 2- Dropping of Ammonia Level

In the next step, nitrites will compete with the ammonia level. The ammonia level starts dropping as the nitrite raises.

So, you have successfully started the nitrogen cycle. This first set of bacteria is here to convert your ammonia, into nitrites.

Step 3- Trace Of Nitrates

Keep adding two to three drops daily so that it continues producing nitrites. A new set of bacteria should have started producing in the meantime that will convert the nitrites into nitrates.

Step 4- Ammonia And Nitrite Both Are Nil

You have to feed the tank ammonia until ammonia and nitrites come out with zero ppm in the test result. When both the results are zero, your tank is completely cycled.

Your test kit will show a readable level of nitrates at the end which you can remove with plants or just regular water changes.

Step 5- Put Your Shrimps Or Let The Tank Sit For Some More Time

Since your tank has been cycled, you can put your shrimps there. After that, you have to continue the general maintenance of your tank. The bacteria colonies will hold up your shrimp load. If you want to add more shrimps later, the bacteria will have to adjust to it again.

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You can still let your tank to sit for another few weeks or one month. Even if you take time to put your fishes, feed the bacteria with ammonia regularly. Do not let them starve. Because only when you put the shrimps in your tank, the waste will start providing ammonia automatically to keep the balance.

What product will you use in this method?

Dr. Tim’s Ammonium Chloride is a very good product to pick up for starting your cycle.

The ammonia you will find in the local grocery store has surfactants that reduce the breeding of your aquatic organisms and lower the surface tension of your tank water. So, it will be harmful to the cycling process.

Fritz Pro Ammonium Chloride is another good product that will ensure pure ammonium to initiate your fishless cycling.

Extra Advantages In This method

  • The bacteria colonies you will get at the end are enough to handle your well-stocked shrimp tank.
  • With the ammonia drop method, all aquarium types can be cycled in a very short period of time.

You Have To Take Care Of These Following Facts-

  • Supply enough oxygen in your tank because the bacteria need oxygen to thrive.
  • The ammonia should be pure, should not contain any perfumes and additives.
  • No conditioners are allowed in your tank water that has the potential to remove ammonia.
  • You can do water changes only if the ammonia and nitrite levels are extremely high. Such a situation only creates when you add more than five drops of ammonia per ten gallons of tank water.
  • When your cycle has been completed, you can use activated carbon to remove any trace of perfumes or additives in the ammonia.

So, these are the three methods I wanted to discuss.

If you are a beginner and could not have grasped the whole thing yet, I am clarifying the cycling process more openly for your convenience. I am trying to answer those questions that came to my curious mind while I had planned to set up a shrimp tank.

What Does The Nitrogen Cycle Mean Actually?

nitrogen cycle

The Nitrogen Cycle refers to the consecutive movement of nitrogen in different forms between the atmosphere, air, plants, soil, water, animals, and bacteria.

The different forms are-Nitrogen (N2), Nitrites (NO2), and Ammonium (NH4).  Now, there is another catalyst behind the scene. Yes, it is bacteria who are responsible for these forms.

The point of our concern in this whole process is ‘Nitrification’ where harmful ammonia is converted to less harmful Nitrate. Oxygen is also one of the main factors.

Why Is Ammonia In Your Tank?

Now, where does this culprit ammonia come from? I’m sure you will not put it there.

Well, your shrimps are not just fancy creatures who are hovering around your tank and pleasing your eyes. As they need to eat, they need to pour out their waste. When you are giving your shrimps food, they are not eating all of that they also waste food like your child.

So, these uneaten foods, biological waste, decaying plants of your tank, water all can be a source of ammonia that is very dangerous for our shrimps.

As we pour out our waste in the bathroom, throw out the wasted food in the dustbin our shrimps cannot do so and they had to live with all these if there were not the nitrogen cycle! A little bit of presence of Ammonia will kill your shrimps without even letting you test and know it is there.

Ammonia can also come from the soil you have used to plant in your tank.

Why Should You Remove Nitrate If It Is Not Toxic?

Nitrate created from this cycle is not toxic but excess of everything is bad, you know. So, this excess has to be removed with the water changes.

So, What Actually Happens When The Shrimp Waste Is Converted?

The waste breaks down into either ionized ammonium (NH4) (which is not toxic for your shrimp) or un-ionized ammonia (NH3) (‘free’ ammonia that is the culprit to fight against).

If your tank pH is acidic (below 7), NH4 is present there. In hard water (above pH7) un-ionized ammonia forms (NH3) which will kill aquarium shrimp – and keep rising like the mafia if nothing stops it!

NH4 can be removed by the filter media. But NH3 in high concentrations and cannot be removed by filter media so needs to be changed to a less toxic form.

At the first stage, a bacteria oxidize ammonia (NH3) and at the second stage, other types of bacteria convert the nitrite to nitrate.

Which Bacteria Does Your Culture Need?

Nitrosomonas Europaea is a nitrifier that will oxidize ammonia. In a freshwater shrimp tank, Nitrospira works for converting nitrite to nitrate.

What Happens To The Nitrate?

As everything should be in a balance in your shrimp tank to keep your shrimps’ free of danger, excess nitrates must be removed from the tank. Here, water change works as a blessing.

See also  How To Change TDS In A Shrimp Tank?

If you are growing shrimps in a planted tank, the plants will absorb nitrates and balance the level. It will be a plus for you if you are one of those who do not want to change the water in their planted tank.

Nitrates grow algae very first. So, you have to do water changes especially when you don’t want plants in your tank. The cycle continues and ammonia is constantly being converted to nitrite and then nitrate.

Can The Nitrate Convert Into Ammonia Again?

In some cases it does. This nitrogen cycle has another stage called de-nitrification where nitrate is at first converted to nitric oxide (NO) and nitrous oxide (N2O) and in some cases in ammonium which is consumed by algae and plants in your tank.

In the case of nitric oxide and nitrous oxide, the oxygen part is used up and the nitrogen goes into the air as gas which blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) take as ‘food’.

Why Do You Need To Use Dechlorinator In The Fishless Cycle?

Your tap water with which you are filling your tank may contain chloramine and chlorine which can kill your beneficial bacteria.

When you will use a dechlorinator, it will not affect the beneficial bacteria and your shrimps.

Whenever you do a water change, add a good quality dechlorinator. API Tap Water Dechlorinator is a good product to go with your cycle.

What Temperature Will Be Best For Increasing The Growth Of The Bacteria Colony?

The required bacterial in your shrimp tank thrives in 65-85 degrees Fahrenheit. If you keep the temperature lower than this limit, bacteria colonies will take a longer period to grow thus making your cycle slower.

Does pH Affect The Cycling Process?

Yes, it does and It is a commonly ignored fact that can hinder successful cycling. The cycling process can take longer or in some cases stop if your tank water’s pH level is below 7. If it is so, you need to raise it first.

Another thing, the beneficial bacteria in the tank will release acids that will lower your pH level in the due course.

What Can You Do Instantly To Raise The pH?

If your pH levels are below 7, a simple 20% water change will raise it so that you can continue your cycle smoothly.

What Plants Should You Put In The Shrimp Tank To Balance The Nitrate?

When the nitrogen cycle has been completed in your tank, you can add mosses, plants, cholla or driftwood, Indian Almond Leaves, Alder Cones, rock piles, etc. to make a “nursery” for your baby shrimps.

Later, these will let biofilm and algae grow on them that will ensure more room for your shrimps to graze in the matured tank.

How Will You Add Your Shrimp After The Cycle?

You can do a 50-75% water change before adding your shrimps to the tank. Make sure your water is clean and has the perfect parameters so that your shrimps face no difficulty to get acclimated to.

Always drip acclimate your shrimp before putting in the tank that will make it easy for them to adjust with your tank water.

Continuous 10% water changes per week will keep your shrimps happy and healthy.

How Can You Put Beneficial Bacteria In The Tank Water?

Nitrosomonas sp. and Nitrospira sp. naturally create and colonize in your tank gradually. But if you want to boost up this process, you can try the following tips.

  • The squeezing of a mature bio-filter media sponge will offer you some of the essential bacteria that will boost up your cycle. So, if you can manage it from a good/professional aquarist or a local fish shop it will be great. But make sure it is disease-free. Muckier media will be better.
  • A small amount of soil from an organic garden can provide your tank with the correct amount of right bacteria.
  • Make sure that it is organic and without any residual pesticides otherwise, you will invite danger for your shrimps.
  • The Bacteria bottles (limited food with no air in a sealed bottle) available on the market work but many of them do not contain the correct Nitrospira sp. bacterium.

Why Is Your Cycle Taking So Long?

Do not pay heed to your neighbors, friends, acquaintances, and do not be upset seeing their instant success. Your cycle will be finished when it will reach its goal. It may be a short or long period.

There is no problem with your processor dosage. The bacteria you introduce in the cycle may be growing very slowly. So, keep patience and wait.


So, that is all that I asked the google before starting the cycle on my shrimp tank. You are now armed with the information, suggestion, and necessary product list, so cycle your shrimp tank before buying your favorite shrimps to give them a warm welcome and a threat-free suitable place to thrive in!

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Muntaseer Rahman

About Author

Hello, I’m Muntaseer Rahman, the owner of I’m passionate about aquarium pets like shrimps, snails, crabs, and crayfish. I’ve created this website to share my expertise and help you provide better care for these amazing pets.


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