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Takayuki Shirakura - Information on successfully keeping and breeding bee shrimp
After talks with Mr. Shirakura and gaining experience of our own, we have compiled some suggestions regarding the set-up of a tank




Bee shrimp and especially their offspring react very sensitive to poisons building up in the water due to leftover food, droppings and so on. Even if you are convinced that your tank is well-cycled and if you do not have odd readings when taking the water parameters, if you do not overfeed and do everything else just right - there are numerous very clear reports on bee shrimp having severe problems or dying off whereas other shrimp species in the same tank do not seem to have difficulties of any sort.



• Finding a remedy; first thoughts

Often it helps to clean the uppermost layers of the substrate more regularly with a substrate cleaner. Thus you prevent harmful substances from forming on the ground. Moreover, in some cases a larger filter and reducing the amount of food might be helpful. Sometimes it is better to feed less, but more frequently. Tanks with a seemingly "over-the-top" filtration and softer water are in most cases far better for bee shrimp. However, too strong a current should be avoided, these shrimp do not really go for fast water movement.



• Setting up a new breeding tank

When setting up a new bee shrimp breeding tank, we ideally use an undergravel filter, which turns the substrate into a filter medium and moves potentially harmful substances downwards before they can be taken up by the shrimp and lead to intoxications. In addition, you can run an exterior filter on the tank, however, you'll have to make sure its water intake is secured against sucking in shrimplets with a fine sponge.

We then pour Shirakura Red Bee Sand directly on the undergravel filter; this sand has been especially developed for keeping and breeding bee shrimp. Due to its highly porous structure it provides the important microorganisms with a tremendously huge surface and thus is very suitable as a filter medium.



Important when used together with an undergravel filter!

The substrate has to be as even and smooth so the water can stream through it in all places, enabling bacteria to fully colonize it. Hilly landscaping and/or a sloping substrate severely infringe the fiter performance as the water only flows through the thinner sections.


A layer of zeolith or other filter media under the sand are not necessary.

Red Bee Sand lowers the carbonate hardness (KH) and the pH value and thus provides your animals with ideal water parameters.


Our water parameters before / after....

Reading ... from the tap ... later in the tank
pH value 7.6 6.5 (*1)
Total hardness 10° dGh 7° dGh (*2)
Carbonate hardness 6° dGh 0° dGh (*3)

pH value under 7

A pH of under 7 is highly important to exclude the existence of highly toxic ammonia (NH3), which turns into ammonium only incompletely when the pH is higher than 7.

Total hardness over 5

A total hardness (GH) greater than 5 is also important as a lack of minerals could lead to molting problems; furthermore, the microorganisms necessary for cleaning the water also do better at a higher GH. If your tap water is already soft and has a GH that's too low, Mr. Shirakura has developed Liquid Mineral Ca+, which only raises the GH and leaves the KH alone, moreover it helps the bacteria to develop better.

Carbonate hardness of 0

We aim to have a carbonate hardness (KH) of 0, as this induces the shrimp to reproduce and is to prevent them from having long reproduction pauses. In nature, mating is induced by the beginning of the rainy season, and then no KH can be traced in the waters of the habitats either.


In contrast to special soil ground for planted tanks, Red Bee Sand does not contain any fertilizer additives and thus is absolutely harmless for shrimp.

Due to its special composition, in the first few weeks it is able to store potentially harmful substances that are then decomposed by the bacteria slowly developing in the substrate during this period. If not too many noxious substances are generated by the tank inhabitats and their food, this works just great, and nitrification develops in a way that avoids nitrite peaks. According to Mr. Shirakura, shrimp can be put into such a tank after a time of only six hours, when the water parameters are stable.


A word of caution!

This is not to be recommended for beginners and requires a great deal of experience as well as a tight control of the water parameters during the first few weeks. If you want to be on the safe side, give the tank 3 to 4 weeks to cycle.




• Using fallen leaves, alder cones, pure RO water, water treated with peat or otherwise

Please refrain from using "softeners" like many of fallen leaves, many alder cones and so on.
If you are planning on a lot of wood never used in a tank before, please make sure you water it very well beforehand.


Important advice!

Please do not use pure RO water, water treated with peat or demineralized water for filling a tank with Red Bee Sand. This can shortening the effect of the soil.



In Red Bee Sand, there are alkaline and acidic agents, keeping the pH at about 6.5 in their overall coaction and preventing it from rising or falling in the long run. However, if the alkaline ingredients of this substrate are neutralized, e.g. by too much humic acid in the water, after some time only the acidic substances have an effect, which can lead to the pH dropping below 6 unwantedly. Pure RO water, in contrast, can lead to an abnormally fast debonding of different ingredients, which can shortening the effect to the soil.


When used according to our recommendations and with a regulary water change of about 20% with tap water every two weeks, Red Bee Sand will remain functional for over a year as a general rule.



• Nitrification

In a tank, the water is cleaned by bacteria transforming noxious substances into harmless ones in a process called nitrification. Insufficient nitrification is probably one of the main reasons for bee shrimp problems.

Bacteria of the genus Nitrosomonas oxidize ammonium/ammonia (NH4/NH3) into nitrite (NO2), and Nitrobacter transform nitrite to rather harmless nitrate (NO3). Important, both genera of bacteria need oxygen to do their work.

Unfortunately, Nitrobacter lag behind Nitrosomonas development-wise, and thus stocking a tank too heavily and feeding too much can lead to high nitrite levels. "Too heavily" and "too much" in this case are not according to what is usually recommended, but always in respect to a newly set-up tank or a badly cycled one, and may already be fulfilled with few animals and little food.

The nitrite levels should be monitored well by drip tests, as permanently high nitrite contents (over 0.8 mg/l) can be deadly for bee shrimp, even though they won't suffocate like fish. If to high nitrite levels occur you ought to act at once, changing water until the levels are down to normal. Ideally, neither nitrite nor ammonium/ammonia ought to be detectable in the water after well-cycled tank. However, this does not automatically mean that everything is just okay then. Shrimp are known to walk on the ground and might take up harmful substances right there, before they can even be detected in the water by our common drip tests. From time to time, shrimp die due to this without the rest of the group starting to behave oddly - as the water itself is still ok.

Nitrate, which is the end product of nitrification, can be reduced by water changes or fast-growing plants, but is also metabolized by anaerobic bacteria possibly living in Red Bee Sand. Due to its highly porous structure, with the help of aerobic bacteria, in the granules some anaerobic areas may develop where nitrate-reducing bacteria live. This function of the sand is most efficient when you use it as filter medium with an undergravel filter.



• Bacteria and soft water

Unfortunately, in soft water bacteria tend to do less well and develop more slowly than in harder water. Please keep that in mind if your tap water is soft and you plan on using Red Bee Sand. A pH between 7 and 8 would be ideal for nitrifying bacteria, but we do not want this with bee shrimp. That's the reason why in Japan bee tanks are often heavily fitered in order to provide the bacteria with more surfaces to populate, e.g. even by connecting several exterior filters to a tank in some cases. Thus an optimal number of bacteria can be reached for the tank in question. It is highly recommendable to make use of Red Bee Sand's large surfaces by using an undergravel filter. This gives you e.g. 8 liters of filter medium in a 60 cm long tank - which corresponds to a rather large exterior filter. The undergravel filter should have as high a turnover as possible in order to optimize water circulation and to activate the bacteria in the substrate.

Tests carried out by the manufacturer have resulted in the following: If the undergravel filter covers the entire tank bottom, a maximal population of bacteria is reached when the entire aquarium volume of water is turned over once every five minutes. I.e. for a 50 l tank, 10 liters of water have to be put out by the filter every minute.

This seems to be way over the top considering the usual recommendations of filtering the tank's water volume one or two times per hour. If you take the "huge filter surface" into account and the rather low current on the individual pebbles of the substrate as well as the perfect levels of oxygen for these bacteria you get this value.

However, this is something a normal undergravel filter cannot perform, you'd have to connect an electrical exterior filter to the undergravel grate to achieve these results. Moreover, we do not want our shrimp to swirl through their tank, and we think the "normal" filter function is generally enough. The test we described was about the optimal conditions for bacteria and the largest bacteria population possible after all, a little less is not too bad either. In order to maintain a continually good water flow in the substrate it is important to regularly vacuum the uppermost 2 to 3 cm of the ground carefully with the help of a substrate cleaner so it doesn't clog.


pH of under 6

A pH of under 6 should be avoided at all times as this makes life really hard for nitrifying bacteria. Under certain circumstances the all-important nitrification processes might not get off the ground at all and thus it takes forever for the tank to cycle - or it is even plain impossible. This phenomenon occurs if Nitrosomonas' enzymes are blocked or if more nitrous acid forms - which is poisonous for Nitrobacter. Or if instead of the important bacteria other microbes grow, which take even longer to reproduce... However, let's not delve into this as it would lead too far here and now.

Unfortunately it is impossible to judge or predict the number and the state of the bacteria in a tank, and everybody just takes "time" as a major criterion. However, the one decisive thing is not how long, but how well a tank has been cycling, and if you misjudge, dying shrimp are unfortunately a disaster waiting to happen.



Important - what to do if the shrimp behave oddly

If you notice that your shrimp behave in an unusual way, or if you have found that the number of dead animals is increasing, please check water parameters and abnormalities change about 40% of the water immediately; it is recommendable to vacuum the ground at the same time. Thus you make sure the substrate is free from droppings and leftover food. Abstain from feeding for several days and change a part of the water the next day, too. Please make sure you monitor the water parameters daily afterwards until the system is running stable again.



If the animals have already suffered damage, some of them might die during the next days even though the conditions are good again. This also applies if they come from a tank with adverse conditions, or have been stressed in another way and are then put into a tank where conditions are okay. This activates their organism, the animals get more active momentarily, grow, try to molt and die, since they had already suffered damage and the molting process is very taxing on their organism. If they die under these circumstances, it is not because the new tank is in any way polluted but on the contrary, as paradox it may sound when you find dead animals in the new tank.


Critical time

A newly set-up tank or a newly stocked one goes through the most critical time during the first 30 days, when lots of leftover food and animals' droppings aren't decomposed and thus rendered harmless in an adequately short time. It is best to start stocking a tank slowly with just a few animals and to feed them only every few days and with small amounts of food.

Even in a well-cycled tank the bacteria have to adapt to new conditions when all of a sudden animals are put into the aquarium that are fed heavily. Sadly, this adaptation period may be too long for bee shrimp.

No matter how long a tank has been running, there are always just as many bacteria as find sufficient food. A balanced system has formed. If you add animals, or if you take out a large number of them from a well-running tank with a high stock of shrimp in it this balance is destroyed and has to re-establish itself. This is the reason why a tank has to be handled with care.


Inoculating with filter muck from another tank

In this context, we do not recommend inoculating a tank running on Red Bee Sand, even though this is often advocated in order to shorten the time the tank needs to cycle. Not if you are planning to put shrimp into that tank earlier than otherwise, anyway. The question is - what are the zillions of bacteria going to feed on in a new, still "naked" tank? The majority of them is very probably going to die, mostly also because they come from a tank with totally different water parameters. These bacteria, too, are sensitive living beings that tolerate these alterations only with difficulty. Thus you might have poured a polluted brew into your new tank the bacteria already present or still alive have to cope with in addition to the rest, which can take quite some time.


In a soft water tank it is not very probable that a sufficient number of bacteria that clean the ground develop in a short time so you can put bee shrimp in after a few days. After the die-off, the remaining bacteria will of course reproduce quickly, as there is an excessive supply of organical matter. However, after this has been used up, many bacteria will starve to death again as there is no more food, and water quality suffers once more. Under certain circumstances it may take a long time until a real balance has developed, you cannot force a system to function. Often enough there are reports in which dead shrimp are lamented, even though the tank had been inoculated... Maybe not even though, but just because, as the bacterial load was maybe still too high and as shrimp had been put into the tank too early after inoculating. Inoculation per se is a good thing for speeding up the nitrification process, but even if you don't measure any odd parameters in the water itself, the water environment is not the same as that on the bottom, and shrimp do mainly walk around on the ground, picking up just about anything lying around there. If you want to inoculate your new tank please wait until the bottom is really clean again and poses no threat to grazing shrimp any more before you stock the tank. Unfortunately, we cannot predict just how long this will take.

For this reason we let our tanks develop slowly as a rule, start with only few shrimp and feed sparingly. Of course, as breeders we do not always have this possibility, and sometimes we have to stock new tanks with a large number of shrimp, which caused problems in two cases on Red Bee Sand, something we soon got under control by changing a part of water, cleaning the ground and a short-term feeding pause.

In general, this balance is enhanced by a certain regularity, i.e. you turn the light on at the same time every day, feed according to a schedule, and so on.



• Enough theory, let's get back to practical things

Substrate height should be at least 4 cm for the special substrate to keep its effects as long as possible and for it to fulfill its function as filter medium as well as possible. After filling the substrate into our tank, we slowly pour tap water in so that the substrate is disturbed as little as possible. For decoration we use one or two shrimp houses and several pieces of mesh covered with moss. This frugal decoration is owed to the fact that we need clear-cut tanks for breeding purposes. If you just want to keep these animals to enjoy looking at them you can of course decorate your tank as you like. Fertilizing your plants with a shrimp-safe fertilizer, dosed accoring to what's usual in shrimp tanks, is not a problem in an aquarium with Red Bee Sand.

After filling in the water we start the undergravel filter, which is always driven with an air pump in our tanks, put some Mineral Stones into the tank that are to enrich the water with minerals and are also very efficient at absorbing harmful substances. After that we sprinkle a heaped measuring spoon of Chi Ebi - baby shrimp food on the water surface. The surface movement caused by the filter makes it sink and spread evenly on the ground. This special baby shrimp food has a positive effect on the formation of the important microorganism populations, which is crucial for shrimplets later on, but also the adults eat them continually. Like other foods, smaller amounts of this special baby shrimp food ought to be fed at shorter intervals. If you spot food rests in your tank the next day, e.g. in the moss, please do not feed again until they're gone, and give a smaller portion the next time.

If you observe shrimp closely you will soon see that they are always feeding and grazing on surfaces. Shrimp are not satisfied with one or two meals a day and do other stuff in the rest of their time. An unbroken cover of microorganisms is thus all-important. Unfortunately, baby shrimp are even more susceptible, and the line between starving and overfeeding (and thus deterioration of the water quality) is a fine one. Here you have to be patient and gradually approach the right amount and gather your own experience regarding your individual tank. Even two aquaria in the same household, identically decorated, never run in synch, each tank is a small biotope of its own, and there are microbiological differences between tanks, sometimes significant ones. This is why e.g. there are lots of young shrimplets developing well in one tank, and in another one they all die off withing the first ten days.

When all the surfaces have been grazed clean or if there is not a lot of algae, shrimp virtually throw themselves on additional food. If there are only a few shrimp in a tank and if they find enough stuff to graze on they often don't really go for extra food. Please do not mistake these for shrimp not eating due to harmful substances in the water or other problems. You can see that something is wrong if these animals do not walk through the tank actively; neither do they continually pick up food with their feeding legs. Shrimp that have problems tend to sit around apathically without a lot of feeding leg movement.

Shrimplets tend to stay in the place they had hatched for several days and if they don't find enough food there they starve to death rather quickly. We highly recommend baby shrimp food for them, as it reaches every corner of the tank so that enough microorganisms can form everywhere, serving the shrimp as food.


Temperature

Temperatures in our breeding tanks are around 23 - 25 °C. Shrimp are poikilothermic, which means that the water temperature has direct consequences for their organism. When temperatures are cold they grow more slowly, and reproductive activities are reduced or even totally abandoned. Warmer temps or temps rising too quickly can activate the organism under certain circumstances so much that the animals grow too fast and thus might die as they cannot adapt their molting process as quickly. Unfortunately, this is an often-reported problem when the aquarium temperatures rise too steeply in summer... From 30 °C on bee shrimp start to die, please try to avoid them at all cost. Temperatures should not fall below 10 °C either.


Lighting

We light our tanks 11 to 12 hours a day.
You don't need any special lamps, we use common daylight tubes.


Feeding

After stocking the tank we only feed every few days and later nearly daily and always one scoop of Chi Ebi baby shrimp food and then also Ebi Dama - basic feed, the amount depending on the number of shrimp in the tank. But also spinach, chard and once a week a few brine shrimp. However, food rests always have to be removed from the tank, and you should try to find out which amount the animals can eat within one or two hours. It's better to feed smaller amounts more often than larger amounts every few days - so large that there is even food left over the other day.


Changing water

We have reduced the regular water changes in our tanks with Red Bee Sand to 25% every two weeks, and as long as the water quality's good this is not a problem. However, we still advocate changing water. In Japan, some breeders do not change water for an even longer period... However, they often have two or even more filters running on one tank, as we have already mentioned.

If nitrification is running well and there are shrimp in the tank, it is indispensable to check the final product, nitrate (NO3) of this process regularly, as well as phosphate (PO4). If these parameters are too high you'll have to change water, as much and as long as it takes to reduce these values back to normal. A good filtration, e.g. by undergravel filter and with Red Bee Sand, can be the reason for the nitrification process to be faster and more efficient than usually, so NO3 might rise pretty sharply in a short time.

Among the parameters monitored frequently ought to be at least pH, GH, KH, NO2, NO3, NH4, PO4.


Of course, not all these data are applicable to every tank in the world, as aquariums tend to run differently.
Every tank keeper should thus try to get the right feeling for his or her tanks...
If you still have questions, please feel free to ask us.



• Getting started - recommendation for the first 30 days after setting up the tank

General to all tanks, even with a different soil, such as regular gravel or sand.

To do
Day 1 One level scoop of Chi Ebi, for the bacteria.
Day 2
Day 3 Measure water parameters...
If your GH is below 5, boost with Liquid Mineral Ca+.
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Day 7 Measure water parameters, after that change 1/3 of the water.
Good parameters are pH 6 - 7, GH 5 - 15, KH 0 - 2, NO2 and NH4 0 - 0.25 mg/l
Day 8
Day 9
Day 10 Feed one level scoop of Chi Ebi.
Day 11
Day 12
Day 13
Day 14
Day 15 Measure water parameters, after that change 1/3 of the water.
Day 16
Day 17
Day 18
Day 19 Measure water parameters...
The first few shrimp may be put into the tank if all parameters have been inconspicuous and remain so. Habituate the shrimps slowly to the new water conditions. Do not feed.
Day 20
Day 21
Day 22 Measure water parameters, feed one level scoop of Chi Ebi.
Day 23
Day 24 Feed Ebi Dama or Ebi Dama Special.
Take out after two hours if the food hasn't been eaten entirely.
Day 25
Day 26
Day 27 Measure water parameters, feed one level scoop of Chi Ebi.
Day 28
Day 29 Feed Ebi Dama or Ebi Dama Special.
Take out after two hours if the food hasn't been eaten entirely.
Day 30 Change 1/3 of the water.

Now you can put some more shrimp in the tank if you want to, and gradually feed a little more. However, it is still very important to keep an eye on water quality all the time, e.g. measure of nitrate (NO3) and phosphate (PO4).



• Feeding plan - recommendation

For well-cycled and stable-running tanks...

Day feed with...
Monday Chi-Ebi - baby shrimp food
Tuesday Ebi-Dama - basic feed
Wednesday Spinach/chard and Chi-Ebi
Thursday Ebi-Dama - basic feed
Friday Chi-Ebi - baby shrimp food
Saturday Ebi-Dama Special - basic feed
Sunday Brine shrimp and Chi-Ebi

Important hint!

Always remove leftover food after 2 hours at the lastest.
It is preferrable to feed only so much that there are no food rests left over after the said time.




And now, all that remains is to wish you always lots of fun and success with keeping and breeding bee shrimp.

Takayuki Shirakura, Carsten and Frank Logemann



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