Why Are My Shrimp Dying? - A Guide to Figure It Out

The question "Why are my shrimp dying?" is something we wish no one needed to ask but, unfortunately, death is a part of nature.

If you recently experienced a shrimp dying, then we are extremely sorry. Hopefully, it happened due to old age but, all too often, it may be from preventable issues like too-fast acclimation, pH swings, tank cycle crashes, molting problems, etc.  Regardless, it always hurts, no matter how many you have. 

Knowing what to do when your shrimp dies is not always clear but following the procedures laid out in this guide helps determine why your shrimp are dying. It also protects your other shrimp from the same fate.  While we cannot possibly cover every cause that brought your shrimp to the afterlife, this article explains the information that must be collected to accurately determine why your shrimp are dying. It also provides a couple of shrimp keeping groups that may help you if you are having trouble figuring it out.

FYI - Most of the article is written from the perspective of Detective Shrimply investigating a case, in the hopes of lightening up this depressing topic.

Investigating Why My Shrimp Are Dying - Step 1:

Isolate and Inspect The Victim


*Squealing car tires*

*Door slamming*

*Footsteps approaching*

“Officer, what happened here?”

“Thank goodness you’re here Detective Shrimply!  There’s a body we need you to take a look at.”

“Lead the way.  Oh, and good job getting a perimeter set up.  Let’s get some pictures and see what we can find.”

Whenever you see a dead shrimp, immediately set up a perimeter to isolate it from the others.  That means getting it out of the tank and into a separate container filled with water.  There are a few reasons for this:

  1. The cause may be a bacterial infection or parasite contagious to another shrimp. Isolating the body helps to prevent anything from spreading. 
  2. It is easier to examine the shrimp in an isolated situation. This gives you a chance to look closer for any signs of what caused the death.  It also makes it easier to take pictures in case you have trouble diagnosing the cause and want help from knowledgeable shrimp keepers online.
  3. A closer inspection may reveal movement. It is rare but possible the seemingly dead shrimp is still alive and could pull through. 

Once you have the scene under control and have your initial observations, then add notes to the case file.  After that, it is time to talk to some witnesses.

Investigating Why My Shrimp Are Dying - Step 2:

Check and Record Water Parameters In The Case File

“So… Mrs. pH, is it?”

“Y-Yes… Yes sir.”

“Where were you at the time of death?”

“I was just, uh, on the corner of Street 7.2, s-sir, at my job.”

“Hmmm, were you now?”


“That-That’s correct.”

“Then why does our witness Ms. Test Strip testify seeing you at Street 8.2?!”

*Throws test strip at witness*

The second step is to explore the scene and question any witnesses that may have information regarding why your shrimp died.  That starts with your water parameters and the test kits themselves.  All the following parameters should be questioned:

  • pH
  • GH
  • KH
  • Ammonia
  • Nitrites
  • Nitrates
  • Temperature

Be sure to record these in the case file. 

If you don’t have test kits for all these parameters, then we highly recommend getting some because it’s very difficult to diagnose the cause of shrimp death otherwise. 

Are They Telling The Truth?

Now, it’s time to do some background checks on the witnesses to confirm they’re not covering anything up.  Can you trust what Ms. Test Strip told you?  What about the others?

To perform a background check, always look at the expiration dates on your testing equipment and find testimonials of witness credibility (product reviews) online.  Some kits, especially test strips, are notoriously unreliable.

If any of your reliable witnesses see something out of the ordinary, then it may be easy to identify the culprit.  Obviously, ammonia or nitrite levels above 0 and nitrates above 40 (or even 20) are a problem; pH shouldn’t have changed too much since your last test; GH should be above 4 and KH above 0 (in most cases). 

It is also important to consider if the death could have been natural.  While it is difficult to tell the exact age of any shrimp, a larger adult that you know was in the tank for a year or more could have simply died of old age.  If parameters are fine and only one shrimp died, then that may be the most likely cause.

If you doubt a natural death and don’t have any suspicious witnesses, then it is time to reconstruct the events leading up to the death.

Investigating Why My Shrimp Are Dying - Step 3:

Constructing the Shrimp Death Timeline

Sit down, pull out a strip of moss to chew on, and do some thinking – Specifically about any recent events at the crime scene (the tank). 

  • Have any shrimp been acting unusually energetic, lethargic, or been hanging out in abnormal parts of the tank?
  • Have there been other deaths recently?
  • Any maintenance done?
  • Any growths on the head, gills, or swimmerets?
  • Any tank mates that could have gotten aggressive?
  • New food added?
  • Were any new plants or animals introduced?
  • Was a new air freshener or cleaning solution sprayed near the tank?
  • Did the room get excessively hot or cold recently?
  • Could anything outside the tank have interfered with the tank? (Including other pets, kids, or chemicals)

Often, recent changes to the tank can cause disturbances.  Obvious cases are when a new shrimp gets added and a fungal infection suddenly breaks out.  Others are less obvious, like feeding non-organic spinach that happens to release harmful pesticides in the tank (We’ve seen a few cases of that, so always get organic, pesticide-free veggies for them).  Even if there is nothing new that occurred, adding any recent maintenance, food, etc., to the case report is always a good idea.  More information makes it easier for other shrimp keepers to figure out why your shrimp are dying, if you decide to reach out to a person or group online.  

Investigating Why My Shrimp Are Dying - Step 4:

Determining the Cause of Shrimp Death

With any luck, there should be something that stands out as a potential cause of death.  Some of the most common causes include the following:

  1. Molting problems – Signs include multiple deaths that are spread out over a few days or weeks or if the shell is deformed/cracked
  2. Poor acclimation/Rapid water change – Signs include many deaths within a matter of hours after a water change.
  3. Contaminated tap water – Same signs as #2. Shrimp may sometimes try to escape by climbing out of the tank. 
  4. Fungal/Bacterial infection – Common signs include discoloration or growth in swimmerets and around gills. This also can include change of color, but shrimp bodies normally change color a few hours after death so it is difficult to say for sure. 
  5. Oxygen deprivation – An obvious sign for this is when most or all shrimp are gathered at the top of the tank (Can also signal water contamination).

This is by no means an exhaustive list but it may lead you on the right track.  If you still can’t figure out what the probable cause is, even with some Google searching, then it may be time to bring in online help.  The cumulative shrimp keeping knowledge in groups like the r/ShrimpTank subreddit and the Shrimp Keeper Facebook page can be extremely helpful. 

If you do decide to post online about why your shrimp are dying, then please include the full case report, including the type of shrimp, how long the tank has been established, any changes/observations, and all parameters.  Don’t just say the parameters are fine because a lot of people get incorrect parameter information online.  Also, not including your parameters is dangerous because someone may incorrectly diagnose your problem, potentially leading to the death of even more shrimp if you follow their advice. 

Lastly, as with any place on the internet, you may get bad advice.  Always do your own research to confirm the information you receive from anyone online, even from Shrimply Explained.  It is never good to put complete trust in any single source of information.


Again, if you recently experienced the death of a shrimp, then we are very sorry for your loss.  Whenever this happens, always do a thorough investigation by following these steps:

  1. Isolate the body in a container with water. Take pictures and look for indicators of disease, molting problems, parasites, etc.
  2. Interrogate witnesses (Measure and record pH, GH, KH, ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, and temperature)
  3. Put together the death timeline by considering recent events. Be sure to ask lots of questions at this stage to help think of anything that may have caused a problem.  Even if it doesn’t save the shrimp that died, it helps to have all this information recorded so you can reference it if more deaths occur.
  4. Use the information you’ve collected to research possible causes of death. Google (or Ecosia, if you want to be more environmentally friendly) is a great help.  If desired, post all the collected information online to groups with knowledgeable shrimp keepers that may catch something you missed.

Hopefully, this post helps you thoroughly investigate shrimp deaths and protect the rest of your colony. 

If you have any questions, feedback, etc., then please reach out!  There are always improvements that can be made to our content so we really appreciate anything you have to say.  In addition, we love talking with members of the community and enhancing our shrimp knowledge together. 

Thank you for reading.  We wish you the best on your shrimp keeping adventure.

Pssst... Want to learn everything you need to know to have happy and healthy freshwater shrimp?  We've got you covered with clear, concise, and fun information in every lesson of The Shrimp School! 

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