White Ring of Death in shrimp: signs and prevention

A well-known phenomenon in the shrimp keeping hobby is the infamous “white ring of death” (WROD) (sometimes also referred to as “white line of death” (WLOD) or “white band of death” (WBOD)) . As the name suggests, witnessing something like this is no good news. If you suddenly notice a white band wrapping around the middle of your shrimp’s body (resembling a necklace), that might be a sign that something is wrong.

The shrimp molting process

Molting is a natural and fascinating phenomenon which signals that a shrimp is growing in size. They will do so by literally leaving behind their old shell, or exoskeleton, while growing a brand new body. Sometimes, noticing a white line in your pet’s body simply signals that they are ready to mature and go through molting: they will start filling their old shell with water until it literally bursts breaking them free. In other cases, though, the ring is a sign that molding was unsuccessful.

The “white ring of death” in freshwater shrimp

What is the white ring of death in shrimp

The white ring of death is one of the most common and recognisable molting issue. It is not a disease per se, but rather the visible symptom of other issues leading to a failed attempt at growing a new body. When molting problems occur, the shrimp’s exoskeleton (the outer, “old” body) may still break, but the shrimp will not manage to “break free” from its old shell and grow a new skin. What you see when you spot a white band of death is actually the exposed flesh of your shrimp. When this happens, they may be unable to swim or be barely able to move and feed. This is an extremely stressful and dangerous situation that will eventually lead to death within a couple of days.

What causes the white ring of death

Unfortunately, the white ring of death has no cure. If you think one of your shrimp may be affected by this, just remember that it may not be too late for it to complete molting. You should, though, keep an eye on your water parameters: abrupt water changes are commonly thought to be the primary cause of this disease.

Water changes and osmotic shock

Sudden fluctuations in water pH, KH, GH, or TDS may in fact force your shrimp to begin molting at a time in which they are not ready to mature. This happens due to a phenomenon called osmotic shock. You can lower the risk of your shrimp experiencing osmotic shock by taking some precautions when doing water changes, namely trying to match your tank’s water parameters as much as possible while doing slow interval changes and periodically remineralizing your water.

Improper diet and lack of protein

Another – less common – cause of molting problems can be attributed to lack of nutrients in the shrimp diet. In order to grow a new shell (and to break free of their old one), crustaceans need an abundance of proteins and calcium in their diet. If you use specialty nutrient-rich shrimp food you are unlikely to encounter problems, as most commercial products are meant to provide a complete diet. If you’d rather rely on “natural” foods then make sure to complement a vegetable diet with sources of protein such as bloodworms or infusoria. Also keep in mind that shrimp are opportunistic feeders which will eat their own shell after molting and the carcasse of their deceased tank mates, which is an efficient way for them to replenish both protein and minerals.

How to minimize stress in shrimp when doing water changes

All species of freshwater shrimp need, well, fresh water. It is a duty of everyone in the hobby to make sure to replace your shrimp tank water every now and then. But like any kind of environmental change, water changes can be a stressful for your shrimp and their tank mates. In order to minimize negative effects and the risk of osmotic shock, a few precautions should be taken:

  • Keep an eye on your water parameters at all time. When you do water changes, try to match these parameters with the new water you introduce.
  • Do water changes are regular intervals and intensities, for instance only replace 25% of the water every two weeks. Do not change this routine unless problems arise.
  • Get yourself familiar with drip acclimation and introduce new water to your tank slowly.
  • Remineralize your water periodically. Low mineral levels, especially calcium, will lead to a number of issues including the white ring of death.

Can you help your shrimp molt?

Short answer: no. If you are thinking of manually trying to break your shrimp’s old shell in order to help them break free, think again. Shrimps are incredibly tiny and delicate creatures and any attempt to help on your side may just add stress and worsen an already tragic situation. The only way you can aid the molting process is by ensuring proper diet, ideal environmental conditions, and by remineralizing water before water changes.

White ring of death prevention

There are a few precautions you can take to minimize the risk of your beloved pets becoming victims of this awful plague:

  1. Invest in their diet. A balanced diet filled with vitamin, minerals and plenty of proteins will allow the shrimp to grow strong and give them enough energy to successfully molt. We recommend to always purchase high quality, nutrient-rich products like Shrimp King’s Protein Sticks or Hikari Bio-Pure Freeze Dried Bloodworms.
  2. Avoid sudden radical water changes or too frequent water changes. Give your shrimp time to get acquainted with any new environment. Only change water sporadically (one every week or two) and never too much at once.
  3. Avoid overfeeding. Leftover food raises water TSD levels and may lead to the buildup of toxic compounds.
  4. Remineralize your water. The presence of calcium will facilitate the building of a new shell. Mineral stones for your tank may help add minerals to your water.

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shrimp affected by white ring of death