Move over adorable puppies, there’s a new pet moving in on the lucrative companion market and attracting big dollars from keen owners.
Aquarium freshwater dwarf shrimp are some of the recent micro pets being brought to aquarium communities across the world.
At just two centimetres when fully grown and available in an array of dazzling colours, the critters are an increasingly desirable addition to small homes and apartments.
Shrimp breeder 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 try and sell the unusual crustaceans.
“The variety of colours is just mind blowing and you can modify that colour through selective breeding, so they’re a very popular designer animal,” Mr O’Brien said.
He likened the colony-building creatures’ homes to an underwater ant farm.
“They’re very peaceful and industrious … they fight a little bit they play a little bit … they are remarkably interesting little animals,” he said.
“A lot of people have them besides their computers on their desk, it’s just something therapeutic.”
He said dwarf shrimp were also low maintenance to keep and easy to feed.
They are able to breed less than two months after hatching.
“We just generally keep the tank’s front panel clean and do a few water changes but otherwise the shrimp clean up a lot of the detritus,” Mr O’Brien said.
“I try to give them a balanced diet, they love spinach, and bloodworm — you’ve got to make powdered foods as well so that the babies get their fair share.”
Good idea worth gold
Mr O’Brien said shrimp enthusiasts were willing to pay large amounts and he was adding new customers to his waiting list every week.
While prices started from as little as $2 for a mid-grade cherry shrimp, Mr O’Brien said rarer varieties such the blue metallic boa shrimp could fetch up to $500 each.
“They have shrimp auctions where you bid on them online and some of the prices can just be mind boggling … to be quite honest it’s a very, very strange pet industry,” he said.
Craze catches on
Melbourne resident Tony Alevizopoulos has been busy building his shrimp colonies.
The long-time hobbyist of aquariums and fish keeping said he first became interested in the micro crustaceans after coming across a Facebook post promoting them as an added tank accessory for underwater gardening, known as aquascaping.
“One of my local garden shops had them in one of their holding tanks that they were using to harvest plants and I thought that’s interesting maybe I do something with that and try it out,” Mr Alevizopoulos said.
He has grown his collection to more than 1,000 with some basic chemistry skills, a bit of love and an impressive home set up which now includes 13 tanks.
He has bred the collection with two species belonging to the Neocaridina and Caridina dwarf shrimp families.
Mr Alevizopoulos said he preferred to keep each of his varieties segregated in single colonies.
He said any oddities were removed.
“I have a cull tank where your least desirable shrimp go in to and it can become your best-looking tank because it’s got so many different colours and patterns in it … that looks absolutely amazing,” he said.
Mr Alevizopoulos said the hobby was still in its infancy in Australia when compared to the overseas market where dwarf shrimp had been bred for decades.
“We’re not as advanced as Europe, Asia Pacific or America, but we’re definitely growing very fast,” he said.
“We have Facebook pages like other hobbies where you share your ideas, share your experiences, and try to get the public or the community to grow along with the hobby as well.”
Mr Alevizopoulos said while they might not be able to fetch a stick or curl up on a lap like a dog or cat, they did provide plenty of ongoing entertainment.
“They’re very interesting to watch the way that they go about eating and foraging for food and as well as watching them do their different activities, especially if you do a water change, it stimulates them and that’s actually quite interesting to see,” he said.