Is Your Ghost Shrimp Turning White? Here’s What to do First

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Ghost shrimp are aptly named--they appear to almost be invisible in your aquarium due to their translucent appearance, which is unique in the hobby.  If your ghost shrimp starts to turn white, it is understandable, and natural, that you'd be worried about your shrimp.

Why is my ghost shrimp turning white? The three most common reasons for a ghost shrimp turning white are the shrimp is about to molt, is reaching the end of its natural lifespan, or has a serious health condition. If your ghost shrimp is turning white you should take action to discover the issue.

Of course, just knowing the most common reasons for a ghost shrimp turning white, by itself, does not help you diagnose the most likely reason your ghost shrimp is changing color.  Lets step through a systematic approach to rule out possibilities, going from the least concerning reason, molting, to determining whether there is something going on in your tank that could be contributing to the issue.

 Step-by-Step Process for Determining Why Your Ghost Shrimp is Turning White

Let's knock out the only potential cause for a ghost shrimp turning white that does not require additional diagnosis or testing first, molting.

Ghost Shrimp Can Turn White While Molting

If your ghost shrimp has turned while, but at the same time has moved under cover of plants or into a corner of the tank, there is a decent possibility that your ghost shrimp is just molting. Ghost shrimps, just like every other freshwater shrimp, molt from time to time, either because they are growing, or just to renew their exterior.

Shrimp bring in minerals and elements from the water, and those elements are absorbed into their bodies, motling is part of a ghost shrimp's natural process to cleanse their bodies.

 However, not every ghost shrimp turns white while they are molting, so the fact that they have moved for cover does not definitively rule out a more serious condition.  Your ghost shrimp should be finished molting within 24 hours.

If your pet begins to move more erratically, or remains white after more than a day, you should just assume that your ghost shrimp is not white because it is molting, but because of a more serious condition.  

Serious Health Condition

Since we have now ruled out molting, we have to next assume that your ghost shrimp is turning white due to a serious health condition.  

The health condition can be caused either by interior processes--organ failure, disease, etc.--or through a condition caused by poor water quality.

Turning white for a long period of time is a very bad sign--and I will be the first to tell you that the majority of ghost shrimp who are ill for long enough to turn white do not survive the process.

But some do, and even if you can't save this one shrimp, most people have more than one animal in their tank.  If poor water quality is contributing to your ghost shrimp's condition, you need to solve it as soon as possible.

Interior Failure

Simply put, there's not much of anything you can do about an organ failure, or just a random health problem with you shrimp that causes it to turn white.  As a result, it's best to just ignore this possibility, and rule out all water quality concerns through the diagnoistic process.

Poor Water Quality Causing Shrimp to Turn White

This is the heart of your diagnostic testing--looking at your water quality to see if this could be the source of why your ghost shrimp is turning white.  There are two major categories of water issues that are the most likely source of shrimp illness: copper in your aquarium, or rapid swings in pH.

Copper in the Water

All freshwater invertebrates, including shrimp, are extremely sensitive to copper.  Anything above trace amounts of copper is a very high likelihood of killing most if not all of the shrimp in your tank.  Turning white could be the first sign of copper-related illness.  This is particularly true if more than one ghost shrimp has begun to turn white at the same time.

Here's why copper is deadly to shrimp:  Shrimp are designed to have a certain amount of copper in their internal organs in order to process oxygen.  As a result, their bodies and exterior are designed to allow for the intake of copper into their organs.  

If there's too much copper in the water, the shrimp will just absorb it all.  It can't molt fast enough to get rid of the excess.  Since ghost shrimp sometimes turn white while molting, it is possible that these two phonomon are related.  When copper levels get too high, they will become unable to process oxygen, and will die from copper toxicity.

First things first, just do a big water change.  Then, get a copper test kit to make sure your tank is copper-free. Also make sure there's no way that contaminants are getting into your tank, and that nothing on your tank is rusting or broken and leaking toxins into the water.

While you're engaging in ruling out copper, take a look at your pH next.

pH Swings are Deadly to Ghost Shrimp

Ghost shrimp, and all other freshwater shrimp, are very sensitive to pH swings.  If you notice that all of your shrimp begin to lay upside down or on their side, and you're running a CO2 system for a planted tank, you should immediately turn it off while you attempt to figure out the problem. 

If you add too much CO2 to the water, your shrimp will be the first ones to feel the adverse effects of the plummeting pH.  

Other than planted systems with injected CO2, it is unlikely that you would be able to change the pH rapidly enough for this to be the cause of your shrimp swimming upside down.  However, test your pH just to make sure.

Generally Poor Water Quality: Elevated Ammonia

Ghost shrimp can turn white due to poor water quality, generally elevated levels of ammonia in newer tanks.  This is usually due to overfeeding or not changing the water often enough, or what's called "new tank syndrome."  

If it's a newer tank, you may also have elevated ammonia or nitrite levels if you do not have enough nitrifying bacteria established in your tank.  This can be deadly to ghost shrimp.  That's one of the reasons it's so important to have a filter with sufficient surface area for biofiltration.  

Old Age

If you've ruled out every other possible reason for why your ghost shrimp is turning white, it may just be simple old age.  Be proud! You raised and kept a ghost shrimp through its normal life span. 

Ghost Shrimp only live for about two years, and if you got your shrimp as adults, you may just have a shrimp that is reaching the end of its natural lifespan.  While this is sad for you as the pet owner, it is a simple fact of life, and it means you managed to give your shimp the best life possible.

A ghost shrimp dying of old age will often begin to lose its translucent carapace, and turn white instead.  This is uncommon in the other potential shrimp-death related causes, and more strongly indicates that your ghost shrimp is on its way to a peaceful and natural death.

If it is a single ghost shrimp turning white, and everyone else looks healthy, this is the most likely culprit.