Freshwater amphipods, commonly known as scuds, gammarus, or sideswimmers are a tiny species of crustaceans resembling tiny shrimp with a compressed body. They are unfortunately better known as pet food for aquarium fish and turtles, while rarely kept as pet themselves. The natural habitat of freshwater amphipods consists of water streams, rivers, swamps, and lakes, where they feed on decomposing plants and microorganisms. Different subspecis can be found pretty much everywhere across the globe, albeit with different characteristics.
Scuds in the aquarium: keeping and care
Scientific Name: Order Amphipoda. Most are family Gammaridae, genus Gammarus; and family Talitridae, genus Hyalella
The one species of freshwater amphipods that is best suited as an aquarium pet is called Hyalella Azteca and – as the name suggests – originates from Mexico. Scuds are relatively easy to care for. Given their small size, they can easily be cultured in a small cointainer (although they tend to reproduce quickly and in large numbers), and you can keep it in a plastic bucket or bowl if you wish. Make sure to position the tank in a place that receives at least 6 hours of dim sunlight.
Size and appearance
Hylalella Azteca are characterized by a body which looks like that of a compressed shrimp. They don’t have a carapace but rather a hardened flesh that is thicker than that of other types of shrimp. The body is divided in eleven segments with appendages and a tail. Gammarus shrimp are generally transparent, but they can change color depending on their diet, with food showing up through their digestive tract in various shades of green. They can also appear brownish in order to camouflage with their environment to hide from predators. Females carrying eggs often assume an orange coloration. Most scuds reach sizes of about 3-8mm, with males being slightly bigger than females.
A newborn gammarus shrimp will be only 1mm long but already physically resembling an adult, and will go through nine different evolution cycles molting about once every five days. Average lifespan is one year, with fewer specimen surviving for two years or more. As for other similar species, colder living conditions will slow growth while potentially increasing lifespan, whereas warmer environments will promote fast growth at the expense of lifespan.
Temperature and water parameters
Freshwater amphipods are rather hardy and can survive most winters as long as indoor temperatures don’t fall below freezing. That said, these creatures do prefer slightly warmer environments and won’t reproduce unless temperatures reach around 25°C (75 °F).
Gammarus Diet and Feeding
You can feed your gammarus any kind of invert-friendly food, including blenched vegetables and kitchen scraps, fish food pellets, dry leaves and algae. In nature, amphipoda are detrivores and scavengers, so they are pretty good at finding food from their environment – even if you forget to feed them for a couple of days, they will likely be fine as long as there’s enough decaying organic matter in your tank. It is better to avoid overfeeding them fish food containing copper as this mineral is toxic to inverts in large quantities.
Under optimal environmental conditions Hyalella Azteca can reproduce around once a month, with one female producing up to 60 eggs. A newborn shrimplet will reach sexual maturity in about 45 days. In warmer climates these creatures reproduce all-year round, whereas in colder areas they will only reproduce during summer periods.
Scuds with shrimp and ideal tank mates
Scud shrimp can be kept in communal tanks but you may encounter issues in which they are competing for resources or being preyed upon by larger fish. If kept in an aquarium with shrimp, gammarus tends to reproduce at a higher rate potentially causing an infestation, and overfeeding on vegetation. There have also been reports of gammarus preying on shrimp fry, so it may be best to keep scuds and shrimp in separate tanks. Keeping freshwater isopods and amphipods together may be more successful as both species are highly prolific yet require low maintainance, and are unlikely to prey on each other. Scuds and freshwater snails are also generally safe to keep in the same tank, and they both make a great addition to a self-sustained planted ecosystem or jarrarium.
Reasons to keep scuds in aquarium
Gammarus, and related genera, can be raised for three main reasons: the production of live food for other aquatic animals, as detrimental organisms for the ecosystem of aquariums and ponds, or for the simple interest of keeping them. The possibilities are in order of increasing feasibility, that is: Gammarus italicus is not a good species for self-production of food, while it is more suitable as detrivating organisms in community tanks, but surely the best purpose for which to raise them is the interest in keeping and reproduction.
In general, they are suitable animals for small aquariums, easy to manage and maintain, rather than as a yield species. However, since they are excellent prey for many predatory fish, in some cases breeding them for food purposes is more than justified.
Where to buy live gammarus and scud cultures
We are currently curating a list of freshwater amphipods online vendors worldwide.