What do Shrimp Eat?

The shrimp is a type of crustacean that is closely related to lobsters and crabs. There are roughly 600 shrimp species and 2,000 subspecies documented in the wild, and they can be found in every ocean and sea as well as in many freshwater sources.

They’re also known as the “cockroaches of the sea”. This nickname was given to them because they will eat anything in sight.

So what do shrimp eat, you might be wondering. There are certainly plenty of omnivores in the animal kingdom, but few fit the definition of “opportunistic omnivore” as much as shrimp do. If it can fit inside the mouth of a shrimp, chances are high that the shrimp will consume it.

shrimp feeding
Shrimp Feeding on a Fish

Shrimp Diet

The shrimp’s diet mainly consists of plant matter, worms, and other smaller invertebrates. They also don’t discriminate between living and dead prey. They’ll happily eat both.

Shrimps are scavengers who primarily consume plankton that other animals have not eaten and left behind. This comprise two types.

Zooplankton

Zooplankton is similarly microscopic animals that can be found subsisting near the bottom of a body of water, and they’re present in both ocean and freshwater sources. Roughly a quarter of shrimp species occupy freshwater environments.

Phytoplankton

Phytoplankton are microscopic plants and can take the form of diatoms, microalgae, or cyanobacteria. They come in both photosynthetic and chemosynthetic forms. The latter is the prevalent food choice for shrimp since they don’t require light to survive.

phytoplankton
Phytoplankton

What Do Shrimp Eat in the Ocean vs in a Tank?

A shrimps diet in the ocean consists of a wide variety of different organisms. The type of food shrimp eats in the ocean includes:

  • Bacteria
  • Zooplankton
  • Chemosynthetic phytoplankton
  • Small fish 
  • Animal faeces

Some of the most popular types of shrimp to put in a tank are brine shrimp, ghost shrimp, and cherry shrimp. Most aquarium owners don’t want their habitat lined with decaying fish though it may be a veritable buffet of delicacies for different species of shrimp on the sea or lake floor.

The amount of care you give your shrimp will depend on their living conditions. Ghost shrimp or cherry shrimp that live in colonies or with other fish can often get by on microfilm and leftover food, but if they have fewer tank mates, they’ll need a more specialized diet.

Aquarium owners typically feed their shrimp one of three things: algae wafers, shrimp pellets, or blanched vegetables. All types of shrimp enjoy the lattermost option, with cherry shrimp, ghost shrimp, and brine shrimp being particularly partial to it.

blue shrimp on sea plant
Shrimp in a Tank

How Do Shrimps Find Their Food?

The ways shrimp look for food can differ by species. For example, brine shrimp are filter feeders and sift possible food items from water as they move through it.

Most shrimp cannot see and instead must rely on touch and smell to alert them of their surroundings and find food.

Some shrimp use their legs and tentacles to feel along the sandy floor for food while others take a more creative approach. The coral reef is one example of an ecosystem where there is an abundance of marine animal life. Cleaner shrimp especially have found a niche in this habitat by cleaning bacteria off of larger fish.

These shrimp tend to set up cleaning stations where fish can congregate throughout the coral reef. Three to five shrimp will typically work together and clean larger fish like parrotfish, snappers, and blue tang.

This is a type of relationship where both parties involved benefit from each other. In this case, the shrimp get their nutrient requirements met while the fish have harmful bacteria and dead skin removed.

Even when they aren’t actively giving baths to local fish, shrimps always play an important role within their habitats. As scavengers like vultures and hyenas do, they remove dead organic matter and detritus from building up in their environment.

Not only do these shrimp remove the corpses of fish and other marine animals, but they also keep algae and plankton populations at manageable levels. Their ubiquity throughout the world’s oceanic and freshwater habitats is a reflection of the valuable role they can play in practically any marine ecosystem.

pedersons shrimp
Pederson’s Shrimp Feeding

Which Animals Eat Shrimp?

Shrimp will eat just about anything smaller than them, but their predators can be just as ravenous. Shrimp are often used as fishing bait because they’re attractive to both freshwater and saltwater fish.

All fish, from cod, herring and catfish, have been seen consuming shrimp. Shrimp are also preyed upon by marine mammals like whales and dolphins. these small animals spend the majority of their lives at depths where other predators, like large fish, reside.

Carpet sharks and stingrays both cling to the floor in search of prey that includes shrimp. Halibut and flounder, as well as other bottom-feeders also call shrimp a part of their diet.

But humans are by far the biggest predators of shrimp. We fish 7.4 billion pounds of shrimp per year and one billion pounds end up being consumed by Americans alone. Unlike native predators, humans tend to actively farm these crustaceans for food.

Shrimp farms often decimate precious mangrove habitats and contaminate the seafood with antibiotics. Additionally, regular shrimp fishing can unintentionally kill many fish and other sea creatures during the process.

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