The Latest On Invertebrates

SHRIMP! Popular with everyone to eat, be they barbecued, broiled, baked, pan-fried, sautéed, stir-fried, raw  or combined in a salad, stew or gumbo. Oh, yes, and one more important category—live, as in residents in a home aquarium. This trend started years ago in China, but it was the Japanese culture that transferred it to the aquatic hobby. Now shrimp are all the rage. Even in the U.S. there are regional shows held in conjunction with aquarium society events.

If you have not yet taken the plunge into the world of selling ornamental shrimp, you are behind the curve. But, proceed carefully, for there are pitfalls when it comes to the business of selling the livestock and the equipment necessary to sustain it. These environments are quite specialized yet simple. We are now in the realm of miniature tank set-ups. Anything from two to five gallons should be of sufficient size to house multiple specimens of shrimp. Such tanks can also be used to maintain pygmy fish species, which mix fairly well with the shrimp. It all sounds good, but consider the conundrum.

Selling more small tanks, especially to novice aquarium aficionados, may mean you will sell fewer standard-size aquariums and, thereby, fewer specimens of classic aquarium fish. This is a double-edged sword that is going to be difficult to avoid. There are, however, several ways you may be able to assure the pitfalls of the miniature tank craze do not cut into your profit margin too drastically.

First and foremost, sell the setup with the shrimp. The customers cannot buy one without the other. Your very best specimens of shrimp should only be sold as part of a package deal, meaning you should assemble the displays at the store. They can easily be broken down since they are so small. The shrimp will need to be removed into clear plastic cups (with tank water) and air holes punched into the lids. You may have a few people object to buying the entire setup. You can pacify them by agreeing to drop 20 percent off the entire price setup if they only want the shrimp. For example, let’s say a two-shrimp setup goes for $75.00. This includes gravel, decorations, live plants, filtration, heater, tank, LED lights and two shrimp. Well, 20 percent off $75.00 still leaves you with $60.00 for two shrimp. Typically, you might sell these AAA-shrimp for $20-$25 each for a total of $40-$50 dollars. That extra profit is going to look pretty good at the end of the day. Plus, you get to replace the shrimp you sold with two new individuals and you never had to break down the tank.


Shrimp Selection

Now, let’s talk livestock, specifically the different types of small shrimp you might stock for sale. I will save the ornamental varieties for later and discuss three shrimp species that can be sold cheaply. Two are basically used as feeders and the third is a low-priced substitute for the more decorative varieties. Assuming your shop sells live feeder fish, you will also want to carry live ghost shrimp and grass shrimp. Ghost shrimp live in freshwater habitats, and Florida fish farms usually have them for sale at a few cents each. They are small transparent shrimp lacking any color. If someone wants to start cheap and see if they enjoy shrimp husbandry, this is one way to go.

Grass shrimp, on the other hand, are brackish-water species, able to tolerate a wide range of salinities from 1.030 all the way down to 1.009. Given time and enough slow change, they can even live in freshwater. Grass shrimp are larger than ghost shrimp and they live longer, 1.5 to 3 years. They may grow to over two inches, which is considerably larger than the ornamental species. Still, they lack color, having a very slight bronze-green tinge to the exoskeleton.

The third choice for the "Poor Man’s Shrimp Display" is the Amano shrimp (Caridina multidentata). These are alternately known Yamato shrimp or algae shrimp. These freshwater shrimp could not be easier to keep, for they will prosper in a wide range of temperatures (65-84 degrees) and pH’s (6.5-7.5). Also, they do not actually require to be fed, as long as the tank has sufficient algae for them to eat. They are great tank-mates for small tanks housing non-aggressive miniature fish species. I highly recommend this choice for customers having their first shrimp experience.

But now, it’s time to move on to the main event: Caridina serrata, commonly known as crystal shrimp. These were created through inbreeding specially selected variations discovered in either China, Japan or both. Caridina serrata has turned out to be the guppy of the invertebrate aquarium world. First, came red cherry shrimp followed by varieties such as blue dream, yellow, blue bolt, Little Red Riding Hood, orange pumpkin spice, Red Rili and too many more to mention. Then, finally, the crystal shrimp, which come in red and black varieties. But wait—there’s more! These also come in grades, from low to high, starting with ancestral then (going up) Grade C, Grade B and finally Grade A. These grades are applied to the red and black varieties.

For the crystal shrimp showing more and more white, the grades are slightly different. Grade S shrimp have the lowest level of white coloration and patterning. Grade SS and Grade SSS have more highly developed patterning and white coloration. Honestly, I have seen shrimp prices at the wholesale level as high as $1,000. These are reminiscent of koi and goldfish prices, but these can easily exceed thousands of dollars each with the record almost reaching $2 million (U.S.) for a single koi. WOW! Who wants to be a millionaire?

As a retailer, you may also run into bee shrimp (Caridina cantonensis). There are numerous varieties of these and some experts believe that crystal shrimp were developed from these species rather than (or in conjunction with) Caridina serrata. The thing about ornamental shrimp is the fact that they are heavily inbred, which is never a good thing when it comes to issues of genetics and reduced gene pool. In other words, these shrimp have fairly specific requirements for water quality if they are to stay healthy and multiply. Still, I would not dissuade anyone from giving them a try. In fact, forget Bettas—think shrimp. They do fine at room temperature. Bettas must have a heater that can hold the water temperature at 80 degrees. While Bettas are quite appealing if they are properly maintained, shrimp have some very interesting behavioral traits that will engage almost any lover of the aquatic environment.

Probably the most fascinating thing about ornamental shrimp is their propensity to procreate in captivity. It is virtually guaranteed that a pair of shrimp (or more) will breed and produce offspring in any miniature environment created specifically for them. The drawback of a short lifespan is offset by a propensity to produce babies. These juveniles are very small and a "dirty" tank (but with good water quality) will ensure their survival. Baby shrimp are tiny, so anything may try to eat them—even guppies.


Other Inverts

Shrimp are only the tip of the iceberg, but at least they are perhaps the newest trend in invertebrates. So, let’s talk about something more exotic, like jellyfish. These diaphanous creatures are almost mesmerizing to observe as they glide through the water with a rhythmic pulsing that seems effortless. Yes, of course, they do present a challenge to maintain, but if you sell the aquariums specifically designed for these fantasmas of the sea, their husbandry becomes much easier. There are containers from nano to giganto, and virtually all of them are functional works of modern art. All that is required of you is to have a couple of display tanks full of livestock and plenty of shelf space to stock the set-ups. Once a customer purchases a unit and has it functioning properly, he activates a certificate via email and the livestock is shipped directly to his address. Your store can stock the consumables necessary to keep the animals healthy.

Let’s drift from the marine environment back to freshwater. Crayfish have been a part of the aquatic hobby for many years. The problem with these creatures is their predatory nature. They may try to catch and eat anything they are able to capture. If you put them in tanks with fish too large to be victims, they frequently end up on the menu themselves. Give them plenty of room—10 gallons per animal, minimum. Popular varieties include the Mexican orange dwarf (my favorite), neon red, cajun dwarf, white, zebra and electric blue. Well-fed crayfish with sufficient hiding places will rarely bother to try and catch fish. All they require as a food source are sinking wafers and, occasionally,  frozen chunks of items, such as Mysis shrimp, brine shrimp and bloodworms. In your shop, display crayfish in dedicated environments, so they will be easier to catch when you make a sale.

Now, looking back to saltwater, there are an endless variety of invertebrates you can sell. The first thing that comes to mind is coral, but that’s a topic for another day. There are many other animals sold in the category of reef invertebrates. At the bottom of the list (evolutionarily speaking) are sponges, which are available in a wide variety of sizes, shapes and colors. Basically, sponges filter food from the water column, usually bacteria and other microscopic particles. The coral reef environment should be filled with food of this typ, although many coral enthusiasts attempt to keep their tanks as crystal clear as possible. Perhaps they should rethink this "cleanliness is next to godliness" approach. It is basically removing all the micron-sized food particles from the water.

There are many more invertebrates you can and should sell. Don’t neglect snails, both freshwater and marine. In saltwater tanks, small ornamental species of crabs will help clean up the environment by eating left over food particles. There are sea slugs (nudibranchs), sea hares, anemones (many species), starfish, sea urchins, lobsters, clams, scallops, etc. The list is virtually endless. PB

Edward C. Taylor has been in the pet industry for more than 40 years as a retailer, live fish importer and wholesaler, and fish-hatchery manager.