How to Set Up a Mantis Shrimp Tank

Mantis shrimp in the wild
Mantis Shrimp photo courtesy of Pixabay

Known for clubbing their prey to death with lightning speed and for having the most complex eyes in the animal kingdom mantis shrimp are not true shrimp at all, but are Stomatopods. Stomapods have fossil records which reach back 340 million years, with 450 known “shrimp” mixed of smashing and spearing species still alive today. Many hobbyists wrote them off as pests that hitchhiked in their live rock, giving them a notoriety around reef keeping. However mantis shrimp are fascinating marine invertebrates and we think they’re cool, and many hobbyists have taken on keeping them in a species only tank. So, if you have considered taking care of a mantis shrimp, here is a simple care guide and how to set up a tank for one.

Smashers and Spearers

Mantis shrimp are divided into two groups of shrimp with club-like claws called smashers, and those with spear-like claws known as spearers. Smashers specialize in catching crab, shrimp and shellfish for food, as oppose spearers dining almost exclusively on fish. They live in tropical marine waters around the world, but have even been found in Southern California local waters. Averaging 4″ when fully grown – with some species growing up to a foot in length – they are solitary, burrowing predators, usually found in shallow waters and can accidently be introduced to reef aquaria through live rock. So, for those who don’t plan on keeping one it is a good reason to dip live rock in a hyper-saline solution and cure them if collected from the ocean.

Illustration example of a Peacock Mantis Shrimp
Illustration by John S.: Peacock Mantis Shrimp, Odontodactylus scyllarus

Smashers are the species which most commonly make it into marine aquaria, with the Peacock mantis, Odontodactylus scyllarus, being the most sought after due to its green, blue and red coloration. They’re the most commonly filmed too, as camera crews try to capture the speed of their strike on prey that is often compared to a small caliber bullet. Their strike smashes claws, shells and carapaces of their prey in a fraction of a second, so take caution when handling one.

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Juvenile mantis shrimp can accidently be introduced to reef aquaria on corals and may end up wreaking havoc. So, for those who don’t plan on keeping one it is a good reason to quarantine any coral purchases, if they were collected off of live rock from the ocean.

Mantis Shrimp Tank Set Up and Care

Due to their highly predatory nature, Mantis should not be kept with any other animals and will predate any fish, shrimp, crabs or snails its kept with. There is also a small risk that a large Mantis could actually break the glass or acrylic or its enclosure. They’ve been documented as being able to break glass, although aquarium walls are rarely used as targets, thankfully.

A mantis shrimp tank doesn’t need to be large to care for one, ranging from a 10-gallon tank upwards, sufficient enough to house a solitary Peacock. Being the only resident, most forms of filtration will do. Protein skimmers and reactors can also be used to help manage water quality. For lighting, a lower output LED strip fixture, like the AquaMaxx Prism, will be sufficient enough to complement the shrimp’s colors. A heater is recommended, but study the geographic location the shrimp is from to match their natural environment’s temperatures.

Attention should be paid to the décor of the tank set up, as Mantis shrimp use whatever is around them to build a burrow that they can retreat into and feel secure. So, start with a deep bed of sand with mixed grain size, followed by coarse coral gravel, coral chips, small rocks and live rock rubble. Simply drop it all in and the shrimp will do the rest.

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Feeding a Mantis shrimp is half the fun of owning one, and they are not difficult to feed, accepting thawed out clams, mussels, prawns, crabs and fish in the tank. Live feeding can be done as well; if it’s got a shell, the smashers can do what nature designed it to do, clobbering the shell into pieces before grabbing the meat and devouring it in its burrow.       

Manage water quality in the normal way, with water changes and regular testing, and the mantis shrimp will do smashingly.

Illustration of a mantis shrimp
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