by: Bunnith T.
After bragging about numerous shrimp tanks that I had at home to a coworker, he asked me puzzlingly,"why shrimp?"
It was a question inquired with genuine curiosity. The reasons seemed obvious, but I couldn't pin any down at the moment. How many of you have been confronted with the same query? Why shrimp, indeed.
Being the best kept secret in a modest yet growing circle of aquarists, shrimp keeping often brings on pangs of confusion and wonder from those outside of the hobby. Even traditional fish-keeping aquarists may find themselves bemused why anybody would devote a perfectly good tank to tiny invertebrates instead of brocaded cichlids, beautifully adorned goldfish and the like. The average person's experience with shrimp is often as something coated in tempura or doused in butter and not as a "pet". Shrimp often bear the same fate with fish-keepers, but instead as a tasty morsel for their beloved fish.
Like most in the aquarium hobby, there is a bit of a god complex at work here. You labor to create a world, one that suits you, and that you eventually fill with the inhabitants of your liking. Being invertebrates, shrimp are far more delicate and fragile than their scaled friends in the aquarium hobby and require extra diligence on your part. The tiny little creatures are at your mercy, yet often you treat them benevolently, caring for them, ensuring that their complicated world is never out of balance lest there be catastrophic consequences. Should an individual or group of inhabitants displease you whether by grazing on your favorite plant or bullying a prized specimen, your wrath can be boundless. And of course, the most obvious Creator metaphor is that you are the master of the all-important light.
But let's re-examine the situation at hand. Who was it that spent their hard-earned paycheck on that exotic substrate that would ensure favorable water parameters? And who painstakingly planted the tank to create a suitable and comfortable environment for your aquatic minions? Remember the light analogy from before? What shrimp-keeper is ever satisfied with the hood and light system of an aquarium kit? We often spend as much or more as we would on another tank for an upgraded light fixture. Suddenly the roles of master and servant begin to cloud in the water.
When time allows, I'll find myself gazing in amazement at my precious invertebrates. They scamper about, forage for food, seek out a mate or just explore. Whenever the mood suits them, they release their hold of the substrate, rock or plant and effortlessly glide in any direction they please, to the next plane of their liking. Although imprisoned in this glass cage that we've created, they're likely to experience more freedom and contentment than most people. Unhindered by the chains of gravity or daily responsibility alike, they live liberated in their aquatic prison. Maybe we should all strive for such satisfaction from our lot in life.
So back to the question at hand--"why shrimp?" A subconscious god complex? A harmonious and mutual balance of master and servant perhaps? Or the unlikely lesson a lowly creature can bestow upon us. Honestly, the answers may be as varied and complex as the shrimp themselves. I don't require a concrete reason or justification, and I doubt any hopelessly devoted shrimp-keeper does either. Is it merely a coincidence that most in the shrimp hobby are a little left of center?