Move over cute puppies, there’s a new pet in the lucrative companion market and attracting big bucks from eager owners.
- Dwarf shrimp grow up to 2 cm in length and live for 1-2 years
- They feed on spinach and bloodworms
- They range in price from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars
Aquarium freshwater dwarf shrimp are some of the last micro-pets to be introduced into aquarium communities around the world.
Measuring just two centimeters when fully grown and available in dazzling colors, the creatures are an increasingly desirable addition to small homes and apartments.
Prawn farmer Peter O’Brien, from Gatton in Queensland’s Lockyer Valley, said he was looking online for a new business venture when he decided to set up tanks to test and sell the unusual crustacean.
“The variety of colors is just mind boggling and you can change that color through selective breeding, so they’re a very popular designer animal,” Mr O’Brien said.
He likened the homes of the colonizing creatures to an underwater ant farm.
“They’re very peaceful and industrious … they fight a little, they play a little … they’re pretty interesting little animals,” she said.
“It’s just a therapeutic thing that a lot of people have besides their computers at their desks.”
Dwarf shrimp are easy to keep and feed, he said.
They are able to reproduce in less than two months after hatching.
“We just keep the front of the tank clean and do a few water changes, but otherwise the shrimp clean up a lot of debris,” Mr O’Brien said.
“I try to give them a balanced diet, they love spinach and bloodworm – you have to make powder so the babies get their share.”
Good idea worth its weight in gold
Mr O’Brien said prawn lovers were willing to pay huge sums and he was adding new customers to the waiting list every week.
While prices start at $2 for a medium-sized cherry shrimp, Mr. O’Brien said the rarer species of blue metal boa shrimp can cost up to $500 each.
“They have shrimp auctions where you bid on them online and some of the prices are just mind-boggling… it’s a very, very strange animal industry to be honest,” he said.
The craze has caught on
Melbourne resident Tony Alvevizopoulos is busy building shrimp colonies.
A longtime hobbyist of aquariums and fishing, he said he first became interested in microcrabfish after coming across a Facebook post promoting them as an aquarium accessory known as aquascaping, a supplement to underwater gardening.
“I had them at one of my local garden shops in one of the tanks they use to collect plants and I thought it would be interesting if I could try something with it,” Mr Alevizopoulos said.
He grew his collection to over 1,000 with some basic chemistry skills, a little love, and now an impressive home setup of 13 tanks.
He raised the collection with two species belonging to the Neocaridina and Caridina dwarf shrimp families.
Mr. Alevizopoulos said he prefers to keep each of his varieties in single colonies.
Any quirks have been ironed out, he said.
“I have a tank that your least desirable shrimp goes in and it might be your best looking tank because it has so many different colors and patterns in it… it looks absolutely amazing,” he said.
Mr Alevizopoulos said the hobby was still in its infancy in Australia compared to the overseas market, where dwarf prawns have been farmed for decades.
“We’re not as advanced as Europe, Asia Pacific or the Americas, but we’re definitely growing very fast,” he said.
“We have Facebook pages like any other hobby, where you share your thoughts, share your experiences, and try to grow a community or community with your hobby.”
Although they can’t pick up a stick or curl up in a lap like a dog or cat, they provide plenty of continuous entertainment, Mr. Alevizopoulos said.
“It’s very interesting to watch them foraging and foraging, as well as watching their different activities, especially if you do a water change, it stimulates them and it’s actually quite interesting to see,” he said.