Treat Horsehair Worm in Ghost Shrimp | 2 Ways Full Guide

Horsehair Worm is a common problem in Ghost Shrimps, and it is unfortunately lethal for your Shrimp. But you may not find many solutions to save your little pet.

There is no proven treatment for Horsehair Worm in Ghost Shrimp. The treatment options already present are somewhat lethal to your pet if overdosed.

So, careful application is necessary if you want your Shrimp to survive. However, the best approach is the prevention of this parasitic infection.

In this guide, we will show you how to prevent Horsehair Worm and the treatment options.

Treat Horsehair Worm in Ghost Shrimp

What Is Horsehair Worm

Horsehair worms are parasitic animals that grow more than 4 inches long. They are also known as Gordiacea or Gordian worms. Horsehair worms belong to the Nematomorpha group.

The adult worms live freely in nature, but larvae are parasitic on arthropods like beetles, cockroaches, mantids and crustaceans.

They are harmless to humans, livestock or pets but can be fatal to arthropods because they absorb the nutrients in the host’s body.

How Do You Identify Parasitic Worms?

Identifying horsehair worms is easy. When the Shrimp is infected, you can see a white thread-like worm inside its body.

These worms grow about 4 inches or longer and 1-3 millimeter in diameter. They often tie themselves in knots, so; it will often look like a knotted thread in ghost shrimps body.

Additionally, Ghost Shrimps show symptoms such as lethargy and body-color change. When infected with Horsehair worms, Ghost Shrimps get less active and hide most of the time.

Their usual transparent color changes to a slightly whitish color, and when the worms grow bigger, you can see the worm through its body in whitish color.

When the worm gets mature, it leaves the host through the anus. However, ghost Shrimps don’t get to live that long until the worm goes away by itself.

How Do You Get Rid Of Horsehair Worms? 

Preventing Horsehair worms in your aquarium is better than treating an infected ghost shrimp as the chance of survival is thin.

To get rid of Horsehair worms, you should keep a cleaner tank with a regular cleaning routine. Below are prevention tips to get rid of Horsehair Worms.

Treat Horsehair Worm in Shrimp

How to Treat Horsehair Worms in Ghost Shrimp

First of all, you should remove the infected Ghost shrimp into a quarantine tank.

While the sick Shrimp is in the Q tank, carefully observe other shrimps and snails and check whether they are infected.

As I have already said before, there is no specific treatment for horsehair worm infection. The most Anti-parasitic medicines available for fish are Copper-based.

Since Copper is a heavy metal, it is dangerous to invertebrates and some fish. So, if you use the usual de-worming medicine available for fish, your Shrimp may die because of the drug.

There are two methods tried and tested by some ghost shrimp owners. However, we cannot guarantee success over any method.

But, giving it a chance of survival is better than letting them die. Isn’t it?

Related: Easy Methods To Get Rid of Red Worms (Camallanus Worm)

Using API General Cure

API General Cure is a medicine that uses to cure several parasite infections in Shrimp. You can try using this medicine for your Ghost Shrimp to treat Horsehair worms.

Use one tablespoon of API General Cure Powder for 20 gallons of water. Depending on your tank size, increase or decrease the amount you put into your quarantine tank.

Put API General Cure powder once and again put the same amount after 48 hours.

Wait for another 48 hours and do a 30% water change with fresh water.

With this treatment, you can expect the live worm inside your Ghost Shrimp to die without harming your Shrimp. However, we cannot assure that the worm will die for sure.

Using the same medicine in your aquarium with healthy shrimps will ensure that they will not get infected with the worm.

Therefore, do this treatment for both the aquarium and the quarantine tank.

Melafix and Pimafix Treatment

One user in the Fishlore forum had success with this combination. Melafix is an aquarium fish medicine used to treat bacterial infections, ulcers and open wounds.

Pimafix is used to treat fungal and bacterial infections in saltwater and freshwater fish.

Putting both medicines in the quarantine tank with their appropriate dosages is how this Shrimp owner tried, and he confirms that somehow it worked.

Since there is no proven treatment for horsehair worms in Ghost Shrimps, trying one of these methods may save your pet from its brutal death.

Otherwise, many fish owners kill the poor Shrimp before the worm kills it after absorbing every bit of Shrimp’s tissues.

Note: Never overuse these medicines over the recommended dosage as they may harm the existing species.

Prevention Tips

  • If you find a horsehair worm in your aquarium, remove it with your hand or with a net.
  • If you pump water to your tank from a surface supply such as a canal or pond, filter the water with a mesh filter to get rid of Horsehair worms.
  • Prevent nuisance insects such as Crickets entering the tank as they are known horsehair worm hosts.
  • Clean the water of your tank with routine flushing. You should do a 30% water change weekly to keep the tank clean.
  • Check the water parameters weekly to ensure proper water conditions in your tank.
  • Monitor your shrimps (and snails) behavior and if you see any changes, seek the cause immediately.
  • If you find out your Shrimp is infected with horsehair worms, isolate the Shrimp immediately.
  • Use a good filter to keep tank water purified
  • Do not keep any dead species in the tank. Remove the dead animal as soon as possible.
  • Install a proper lighting system in your tank. Keep the lights on for about six to seven hours.

Also read Do Ghost Shrimp Eat Algae? 15 Things You Should Know

Are Horsehair Worms Harmful To Shrimp?

Yes. Horsehair worms are harmful to shrimps and also snails. Horsehair worms parasitism about three months inside a host.

They grow more than four inches long within this time frame, and shrimps cannot hold them for long because Ghost Shrimp is a small invertebrate.

Unfortunately, the horsehair worm absorbs all the nutrients in Ghost Shrimps body, leading to the Shrimp’s death.

If somehow, the Shrimp could hold it until the worm leaves its host through the anus, then the Shrimp has a chance to survive.

What Does A Horsehair Worm Do?

Horsehair worm larvae form a protective covering or a cyst to remain unharmed until it goes inside a host.

When an insect eats this cyst, the larvae bore through the gut wall. Further, it goes into the body cavity of the host.

In there, the worm grows up digesting and absorbing the surrounding tissue. When the worm gets mature, it leaves the host’s body through the anus to start mating.

Horsehair worms spend the winter in the water. They mate in the spring, and the eggs hatch about three weeks to one month later.

So, if your Shrimp shows any horsehair symptoms in the spring, there’s a high chance that Horsehair worms infect your Ghost Shrimp.

How Do Shrimp Get Horsehair Worms

Shrimps get horsehair worms when they eat a worm cyst somehow. There are several ways that horsehair worms encyst themselves to enter into a suitable host.

  • Some horsehair worms encyst directly, and the host directly ingests the larvae. This way, the larvae immediately move into their parasitic stage and start to develop within that host.
  • Another species of horsehair worms stay in the larvae stage until a water-inhabiting insect (mayflies, mosquitoes, and chironomids) ingest the larvae. Then it encysts inside the host’s body cavity.
  • The cyst remains in this initial host until the host develops into an adult. If a suitable host insect (such as crickets, mantids, carabids, and shrimps) ingest the adult, the worm emerges from the cyst and develops in the secondary host’s body.
  • Some pre-parasitic horsehair worm larvae encyst on leaves or debris when a water source dries up. Shrimps may ingest these cysts when eating vegetation, and the larvae can move into the parasitic stage.

What Does A Horsehair Worm Do? How It Affect Shrimp

Horsehair worms need nutrients to grow up. Their way of getting the required nutrient is by absorbing them from the host.

Shrimp is a small invertebrate. It cannot endure this nutrition absorption until the worm matures enough to leave the body. Therefore the Shrimp dies because of nutrition deficiency.

Horsehair Worm Life Cycle

There are four stages in the life of a horsehair worm.

  1. The egg
  2. Pre-parasitic larvae that hatch from the egg
  3. Parasitic larvae that develop within an invertebrate
  4. The free-living aquatic adult

The adult horsehair worm lives the winter in the water. When the spring comes, they mate and lay eggs. 

The female worm lay a string of eggs that is 12 to 24 inches long in the water. These eggs hatch within three to four weeks and then become preparasitic larvae.

These preparasitic larvae then create a cyst around it. When invertebrate species like snails, shrimps, crickets and mantids ingest this cyst, the protective covering of larvae dissolves.

Then the larvae enter into the digestive system of the host. From there, these larvae become parasitic larvae by digesting and absorbing surrounding tissue.

When the larvae grow bigger enough to live by itself, it leaves the host insect and reproduces while living in the water.

The adult worm is free-living in the water and doesn’t feed, but they survive for many months without food.

They live in water or mud in the winter, and the cycle repeats when the spring comes.

Horsehair Worm in Fish

Fish are vertebrate animals. Horsehair worms cannot parasitism vertebrate animals. So, they won’t enter into the fish’s digestive system and infect the fish. 

Therefore, your fish are safe if a horsehair worm infection occurs in your aquarium.

Horsehair Worm in Snail

Snails are invertebrate species. Therefore, horsehair worms can infect snails, and they can be fatal to snails.

So, if one of your shrimps or snails get infected with Horsehair worm, you will have to quarantine each Shrimp and snail and carefully observe them for some time.

Related Questions 

Horsehair Worm In Humans

Horsehair worms can not parasitize vertebrates. So, they are not harmless to humans, livestock, pets or birds.

If humans consume live Horsehair worms, they will encounter some mild intestinal tract discomfort, but they won’t get infected by these worms.

Can Shrimp Have Parasites?

Yes. Shrimps can have parasites. Horsehair worms are just one type of parasite. There are several other parasites common in freshwater shrimps raised in captivity.

Peritrich ciliates, Scutariella japonica, Vorticella and Ellobiopsis sp are few parasitic infections common in freshwater shrimps.

Are Horsehair Worms Harmful To Fish?

Horsehair worms are not harmful to fish because they can not parasitize on vertebrate animals.

Therefore, you don’t have to worry about your fish if your Shrimp got infected with horsehair worms. However, other shrimps and snails are prone to Horsehair worm infection.

Do Fish Eat Horsehair Worms?

Yes. Aquatic animals like fish, frogs, Cray Fish and Turtles eat worms like flatworms, horsehair worms, and roundworms.

But, they cannot get the horsehair worm out of invertebrates without harming them. Unfortunately, fish cannot help infected Ghost Shrimps in any way.


Preventing Horsehair worms is more straightforward than treating an infected Ghost Shrimp. The mortality rate of infected Ghost Shrimp is high irrespective of any treatment options. Therefore, try to follow the prevention tips we have shared above to save healthy shrimps from Horsehair worms.

About Dr.Chamika

Hello, I'm Dr. Chamika. I am Researcher in water and environmental chemistry. I am passionate fish keeper, with years of experience. My mission is to help other aquarists experience the joy of fish keeping.