Crayfish latest addition to the micro pet craze

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Move over adorable puppies, a new pet that is moving into the lucrative companion market and attracting big bucks from eager owners.

Aquarium freshwater dwarf shrimp are some of the recent micro-pets being brought into aquarium communities around the world.

At just two centimeters when fully grown and available in a range of dazzling colours, the liquids are an increasingly desirable addition to small homes and apartments.

Prawn farmer 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 colors is just amazing and you can change that color through selective breeding so they are a very popular designer animal,” Mr O’Brien said.

He compared the home of the colony-building creatures to an underwater ant farm.

Man standing in front of an aquarium
Peter O’Brien says he started farming freshwater prawns after watching a YouTube clip.(Provided by: Peter O’Brien)

“They are 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 in addition to their computers on their desks, it’s just kind of 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 generally keep the front panel of the tank clean and do a couple of water changes, but otherwise the shrimp clean a lot of the waste,” Mr O’Brien said.

“I try to give them a balanced diet, they love spinach and bloodworms – you also have to make powdered food so the babies get their fair share.”

Good idea worth its weight in gold

Blue metallic boa shrimp swimming
Blue metallic boa shrimp can fetch anywhere between $300 – $500 each.(Provided by: Peter O’Brien)

Sir. O’Brien said shrimp enthusiasts were willing to pay big bucks 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 as 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 confusing … to be quite honest, it’s a very, very strange pet industry,” he said.

The craze is catching on

Tony Alvevizopoulos, who lives in Melbourne, has been busy building his shrimp colonies.

Man standing in front of several aquariums containing dwarf shrimp
Tony Alevizopoulos has converted his backyard shed into a climate-controlled aquarium.(Provided by: Tony Alevizopoulos)

The longtime aquarium and fish keeping hobbyist said he first became interested in the microcrustaceans after he came across a Facebook post promoting them as an add-on tank accessory for underwater gardening, known as aquascaping.

“One of my local garden stores had them in one of their storage tanks that they used to harvest plants and I thought it’s interesting, maybe I’ll do something about it and try it,” Mr Alevizopoulos said.

He’s grown his collection to more than 1,000 with some basic chemistry skills, a little love and an impressive home, which now includes 13 tanks.

He has bred the collection with two species belonging to the Neocaridina and Caridina dwarf shrimp families.

Sir. Alevizopoulos said he preferred to keep each of his varieties separate in single colonies.

He said all oddities were removed.

“I have a cutout tank that your least desirable shrimp go in and it can be your best looking tank because it has so many different colors and patterns in it… it looks absolutely amazing,” he said.

Colony of burgundy dwarf shrimp
Wine red (pictured) is a variety of Taiwan’s beehives.(Provided by: Tony Alevizopoulos)

Sir. Alevizopoulos said the hobby was still in its infancy in Australia compared to the overseas market, where dwarf prawns had been farmed for decades.

“We’re not as advanced as Europe, Asia Pacific or the Americas, but we’re certainly growing very quickly,” 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 with the hobby as well.”

Sir. Alevizopoulos said that while they might not be able to pick up a stick or curl up on your lap like a dog or cat, they provided plenty of running entertainment.

“They’re very interesting to see how they go around eating and foraging for food and as well as seeing them go about their various activities, especially if you do a water change, it stimulates them and it’s actually quite interesting to see .” he said.

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