What Do Shrimp Eat? A Comprehensive Guide

We know that shrimp are small crustaceans and the perfect bait for catching a lot of fish, but what about their diet? What do shrimp eat in the ocean? Here’s everything there is to know about these tiny sea creatures and their diet at the very bottom of the ocean food chain.

What Do Wild Shrimp Eat?

There are more than 300 species of shrimp found in waters around the globe, and wild shrimp are bottom feeders who will eat almost anything that they can manage to grab ahold of and swallow.

There are slight variations on typical diets across the different shrimp species, and it really depends on where they live and what’s available to eat.

That being said, most shrimp eat plankton, algae, and aquatic plants no matter where they are in the ocean.

Let’s take a look at the most common true shrimp species and their usual diets.

Pink shrimp

Pink shrimp, also known as spotted, pushed, or green shrimp, grow up to 8 inches. Their larger size, for a shrimp anyway, allows them to eat small mollusks that may be too big for tiny shrimp.

As fully-grown omnivores, pink shrimp stir the ocean floor and use feelers to smell and pick up their prey. They most commonly eat bacterial film, algae, diatoms, crustaceans, and decomposing aquatic plants.

Pacific cleaner shrimp

Also called the skunk cleaner or scarlet cleaner, the Pacific cleaner shrimp gets its name from the way it feasts on parasites and dead fish tissues.

They may only be two inches long, but that doesn’t stop Pacific cleaner shrimp from making a cleaning station to attract fish.

They clean larger fish by removing parasites and eating them, with plant matter supplementing their diet.

Vampire shrimp

Vampire shrimp, which are also known as Gabon shrimp or African giant shrimp, usually eat algae, detritus, diatoms, and insects.

Their chelipeds (front legs) allow these 12cm shrimp to sweep the bottom of the ocean and collect small aquatic plants and insects.

Vampire shrimps have small fans that come in handy when collecting microorganisms and dead plants.

Freshwater shrimp

While most people think of shrimp as sea creatures, some species also live in freshwater lakes, streams, and rivers.

Their diet is much the same whether in saltwater or freshwater, it just depends on what’s available and what is small enough for shrimp to consume.

Freshwater shrimp are scavengers on an omnivorous diet that eat a wide range of organic matter. These shrimp usually prefer microscopic insects, decomposing plants, algae, and animal protein.

What Do Juvenile Shrimp Eat?

While it takes just a few weeks for most shrimp species to grow into their full size, juvenile shrimp must eat to survive.

Microscopic plants and animals that fall under the plankton category are the easiest for juvenile shrimp to eat. Their tiny legs, claws, and mouths are not fully developed, so they just can’t eat crustaceans, worms, and large plants.

As juvenile shrimp mature, they make their way from the top of the water toward the bottom of the ocean where they begin to scavenge on organic matter like plankton and algae.

Do Shrimp Eat Other Shrimp?

what do shrimp eat

While most shrimp don’t make a habit of eating other shrimp, they have been known to consume their own kind if there isn’t much other food available.

Shrimp may eat another shrimp if it has molted, stripping away its defenses and tough outer exterior. A larger shrimp may eat a smaller, softer shrimp if they can’t find other food nearby.

By eating smaller shrimp and scavenging for algae, plankton, and insects, shrimp serve an important role in regulating the microscopic prey population wherever they live.

Do Shrimp Eat Seaweed?

Seaweed comes in thousands of varieties, and some are easier for shrimp to find and eat than others. Most shrimp prefer to eat other aquatic plants before seaweed, as there is a lot of algae on the bottom of the ocean or lake.

If other animals haven’t eaten seaweed and it reaches the ocean floor, shrimp are more likely to eat it.

Shrimp like to eat brush algae, hair algae, and most varieties of string algae. If there’s a school of shrimp that finds a good piece of algae, they can make quite an impressive dent in it.

Do Shrimp Eat Decaying Materials?

Shrimp eat anything they can swallow, whether it’s dead or alive.

Shrimp are actually recognized for their ability to support cleaner aquatic environments by eating decaying materials that would otherwise build up and affect water quality.

This is especially true for freshwater shrimp, which mainly feed on microscopic particles of decaying algae at the bottom of the lake or stream.

Freshwater shrimp make the lake environment cleaner by getting rid of decaying materials, which they scrape up with their claws. By eating algae, these shrimp effectively recycle organic matter to maintain the underwater environment.

How Do Shrimp Eat?

While shrimps range in size from microscopic to 18 inches long, they still remain at the bottom of the food chain. Regardless of size, shrimp will always be prey for larger fish and marine life.

With this in mind, shrimp need to eat whatever food they can find and eat it quickly before they become the hunted. That’s why they use their appendage mouthparts to pump water and grab hold of food.

Shrimp are known for their “jaw feet” or maxilliped, which are the first of several leg appendages.

The front legs have claws or chela, which are used to grasp food and lift them to the mouth. With tiny mouths, they can only eat food that’s easy for them to digest without chewing.

Scavenging shrimp take advantage of food whenever they find it, but they don’t need to eat all the time. Their miniature size means shrimp can survive on eating just a few times a week.

Wild shrimp are more opportunistic and will snap up plankton, algae, and plant matter once a day if not more.

Shrimp do not swim the same way as fish because they don’t have fins. Shrimp locomotion includes tail flipping and pulling the abdomen up toward the body to propel them through the water.

Shrimp also feed and move around in schools, so if one finds food, the others follow.

Do Shrimp Prey On Other Aquatic Creatures?

what do shrimp eat

Shrimp are scavengers and opportunistic feeders, but they don’t necessarily hunt their food the way large fish and crustaceans do.

Shrimp are just too small and don’t have the weaponry or protection to allow them to hunt and pounce on food. Instead, shrimp strike at the right time, disturbing their food source on the bottom of the water for a successful meal.

Shrimp may be omnivores, but a lot of them will eat more aquatic plants than insects, just because the algae is easier to find and eat.

When shrimp do eat aquatic creatures, they move across the ocean floor, stirring up sand, silt, and mud to uncover the insects and crustaceans underneath.

This action disturbs plankton and aquatic worms, so shrimp can grab their food and start eating. Shrimp foraging and feeding on aquatic creatures are most common at night when they have fewer predators to worry about.

What Do Aquarium Shrimp Eat?

Although the vast majority of shrimp live in wild waters, they can be kept in aquariums as a source of food for fish.

Aquarium shrimp are usually fed algae, plankton, and insects just like they would eat out in the wild. They eat both living and dead plants and insects, and if it’s on the aquarium floor, it’s likely shrimp will feed on it.

One of the most common sources of food for aquarium shrimp is algae growing inside the tank. They also love fish food and microscopic particles.

Conclusion

Shrimp may be at the bottom of the ocean food chain, but before they are inevitably eaten by fish, dolphins, sharks, whales, and other predators, they have a feast of their own.

Shrimp use their multiple legs and tiny claws to grip their food and eat anything they can find that’s of a suitable size.

Most shrimp eat a wide range of microscopic plants and insects, including plankton, algae, and crustaceans. If decaying materials, leaves, or seaweed are available, shrimp may feast on those too.

Whatever microscopic creatures and plants these opportunistic shrimp can find at the bottom of their saltwater or freshwater environment, they will feed on to stay alive and away from predators.