The saltwater world of the aquarium hobby is filled with colorful fish species and flowing corals. But did you know that there are a plethora of invertebrates that you can keep in your reef, fish only with live rock (FOWLR) or species-specific tanks?
Marine shrimp are especially popular additions to the aquarium as they can help keep the tank clean and even keep your fish healthier.
Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about saltwater shrimp, the different species available for your aquarium, and how to give them the best care possible!
About saltwater shrimp
Compared to freshwater shrimp in the aquarium hobby, saltwater shrimp are much larger and have more interesting behaviors.
In addition to vibrant colors, these shrimp typically have another outstanding feature or behavior about them; many marine shrimp form symbiotic relationships with other animals on the reef, meaning that each animal usually benefits in some way from the other.
In general, these shrimp are nocturnal. Unless they feel safe in your reef tank setup, they will stay hidden under rockwork and only emerge at night when there are fewer predators.
Saltwater shrimp will usually only stay in one area of the aquarium, sometimes setting up a cleaning station to clean reef fish, graze for algae on rocks, or gently sway in the water current.
Like freshwater shrimp and other crustaceans, saltwater shrimp molt or shed their exoskeleton to grow or repair an injury.
These animals have the incredible ability to regenerate lost limbs through molts, so don’t be too concerned if you see a shrimp lose a leg or a pincer as it will quickly grow it back.
You should note that these molted exoskeletons can look very much like dead shrimp in the aquarium. If you find a limp shell of your shrimp, first check the aquarium to locate the live shrimp; usually, they will hide during this time as they are most vulnerable.
There is no need to remove this exoskeleton from the tank as the shrimp will usually eat some of it to regain nutrients. Some hobbyists dose nutrients, like iodine, to aid in molting, but this is unnecessary.
Saltwater shrimp care
Saltwater shrimp care is easy, and they should be considered as any other fish or coral species. Generally, shrimp can have the same bioload as fish, so it is possible to overstock invertebrates alone.
Shrimp can be kept under most lighting conditions unless the species is known for living in darker conditions. They will appreciate intricate rockwork to hide and graze for food sources.
Here are the ideal parameters for most saltwater shrimp species:
- Salinity: 1.024-1.026
- pH: 8.0-8.4
- Temperature: 75-82° F (23.9-27.8° C)
- Alkalinity: 8.0
- Calcium: 350-450 ppm
- Magnesium: 1200-1350 ppm
As with other marine invertebrates, shrimp cannot be exposed to copper-based medicines. They are also very sensitive to high nitrate counts and unstable water parameters, so it is vital to drip acclimate them for an hour or more before adding them into your tank.
Depending on the species, saltwater shrimp can be kept in nano tanks with no problems. They should be allowed enough space to form territories, though some species do better when in small groups.
Though most shrimp are considered reef-safe, they can irritate corals which can cause them to be closed for extended periods.
The most common saltwater shrimp species
There are many different kinds of saltwater shrimp species, though only a handful can regularly be seen in the home aquarium. These shrimp can be expensive, so be prepared to spend as much as you would for a fish.
Here are some of our favorite saltwater shrimp species you’re bound to come across.
Cleaner shrimp (Lysmata amboinensis)
Cleaner shrimp, also known as Scarlet Skunk Cleaner shrimp, are among the most popular types of saltwater shrimp in the aquarium hobby. This is because these red, white, and yellow shrimp set up stations on coral outcroppings on the reef where they wait for fish to come to get cleaned.
This behavior is fascinating to watch as even predatory fish learn over time that the shrimp will clean them of parasites, dead tissue, and other external microbes. You may see your fish approach your Cleaner shrimp, waiting to be cleaned at any given moment.
Cleaner shrimp only grow to about 2 inches (5.1 cm) long and establish a specific territory that they rarely leave. They can be found in groups in the wild, but they will do fine as the only shrimp in the aquarium.
These shrimp are peaceful and generally reef-safe. The minimum tank size recommended for one cleaner shrimp is 10 gallons (37.9 L).
Fire shrimp (Lysmata debelius)
Fire shrimp, also known as Blood-red Fire shrimp, are much more colorful than Cleaner shrimp, with a bold blood-red body color. Though these beautiful shrimp are also considered cleaner shrimp, and while they exhibit cleaning behavior, they are not as good at their job as their counterparts are, and it is rare to see a Fire shrimp cleaning a fish.
On top of that, these shrimp are very shy and reclusive. Unlike Cleaner shrimp that set up stations in the front of the reef, Fire shrimp like to stay hidden in the rockwork.
Fire shrimp are generally peaceful shrimp and reef-safe, and can be kept with other popular invertebrates; a Fire shrimp and Cleaner shrimp pairing is very popular but requires at least 20 gallons (75.7 L) or more to do successfully.
You should think of shrimp as adding another fish to the aquarium regarding bioload, so make sure to not overstock with invertebrates!
Pistol shrimp (Alpheus spp.)
Pistol shrimp are one of the most fun shrimp you can have in your aquarium as they form symbiotic relations with gobies, like Yellow Watchman gobies (Cryptocentrus cinctus) and Randall’s gobies (Amblyeleotris randalli).
These sand-dwelling fish species and shrimp are usually seen together in burrows made in the sand. The shrimp keeps the burrow open for access while the fish offers protection. However, this relationship will change based on the species of the fish and shrimp.
There are two kinds of Pistol shrimp you will likely run into: the Tiger Pistol shrimp (Alpheus bellulus) and the Red-banded Pistol shrimp (Alpheus randalli). Their care is the same, and both can be kept in a nano 5-gallon aquarium (18.9 L) with smaller species of goby, respectively.
These shrimp get their name from their extremely loud pincers, which can be heard outside the aquarium. For the most part, they use these pincers to clear sand and rubble for their burrows, but they can also be used to capture other invertebrates.
In general, Pistol shrimp are reef-safe. However, they can be territorial and spontaneously attack fellow invertebrates in the tank.
Harlequin shrimp (Hymenocera picta)
Harlequin shrimp are one of the most ornate species of saltwater aquarium shrimp. These beautiful saltwater shrimp are small and stay under 2 inches long (5.1 cm) when fully grown. But, they have been known to eat whole Chocolate Chip starfish (Protoreaster nodosus) that can grow to considerable sizes.
These decorative shrimp are interesting in that their diet heavily relies on echinoderms, namely starfish. This means that they can be a great addition to an aquarium overrun by Asterina.
Harlequin shrimp are one of the most reef-safe species to have as their pincers are for display only. However, they do best as the only shrimp in the tank or in mating pairs.
Their selective diet can be challenging for inexperienced reefers or immature tanks. Most hobbyists usually set up a separate starfish culture system just for their Harlequin shrimp; otherwise, they regularly purchase larger starfish for feedings.
To find out more about the Harlequin shrimp, make sure to check out our full care sheet here.
Sexy shrimp (Thor amboinensis)
The Sexy shrimp, also known as the Anemone shrimp, is one of the most interesting shrimp species on this list. It is named after how it seems to flair its abdomen while walking. Its bright white spots against its dark reddish-brown body also make this shrimp a spectacle in a reef.
Sexy shrimp are very small and stay well under 1.5 inches long (3.8 cm) when fully grown. They prefer to stay in groups of 3-5 and host anemones and other corals with long tentacles; in return, the shrimp clean the anemone or coral of waste and debris.
These fantastic shrimp are incredibly peaceful and can safely be kept with other invertebrates. Sexy shrimp are one of the few shrimp that are most active during the day, which means that their unique behaviors can really be enjoyed.
They need to be fed regularly, but will willingly accept most aquarium foods, like brine shrimp, bloodworms, and even fish flakes over time.
Peppermint shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni)
Peppermint shrimp are one of the most useful shrimp in the aquarium as they are a natural predator against the pest Aiptasia in the saltwater aquarium. Though these Caribbean shrimp might not be the most attractive shrimp in the hobby, they are among the most versatile.
These shrimp ‘hunt’ in small groups and quickly devour glass anemones that would have been very difficult to remove otherwise. Keepers should note that while some shrimp are eager to eat Aiptasia, others will completely ignore them. These shrimp also sometimes confuse Zoas and other small corals with anemones and snack on those instead.
It is best to keep these shrimp in groups of 3 or more. They only grow to be about 2 inches long (5.1 cm), so they can be placed in most tank setups. They are a peaceful species that will clean the rocks and sometimes even fish.
Camel shrimp (Rhynchocinetes durbanensis)
The Camel shrimp is often confused with Peppermint shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni), which can cause big problems in a reef aquarium setup.
These shrimp can appear very similar to Peppermint shrimp to the untrained eye. Both shrimp sport red-colored stripes, so the main thing to look out for if buying either of these shrimp is the curvature of their back. Camel shrimp will have a very defined hump to their body, earning them their name.
The other main differences are the shapes of their beak (rostrum) and color. Camel shrimp have an upward-pointing beak and crisp, defined white striped pattern. Getting these two mixed up can be a problem as Peppermint shrimp are generally reef-safe, and Camel shrimp are not.
Camel shrimp have been known to completely devour corals overnight, which can be very confusing for someone who thought they just bought a Peppermint shrimp; these shrimp can be great additions to FOWLR tanks, though.
Camel shrimp do best in groups and will clean the rock of debris and waste.
Coral banded shrimp (Stenopus hispidus)
The Coral Banded shrimp is not a true shrimp but has been included on this list due to its common name and availability in the hobby.
These spiny shrimp are very active and are one of the largest species available, growing to 2.5-3.0 inches long (6.4-7.6 cm). They have two large pincers used to scrape food away from rock and pick parasites off of fish.
Though these shrimp as usually reef-safe, hobbyists might have some concerns before adding them to an aquarium full of corals. A reef-safe Coral Banded shrimp is not always guaranteed and some have been known to pick at corals and anemones.
If this happens, they can be very difficult to catch and remove from the aquarium, prolonging the damage done.
Some hobbyists have also had their Coral Banded shrimp pick at the fins of more docile fish and attack other shrimp species in the tank. They are incredibly aggressive to their own species but have been known to go after Peppermint shrimp and Sexy shrimp as well.
Mantis shrimp (Stomatopoda order)
Up for a challenge? Then the Mantis shrimp will keep you guessing for days.
The most common species of Mantis shrimp you’ll find in the aquarium hobby is the Peacock Mantis shrimp (Odontodactylus scyllarus). These smart shrimp are beautiful rainbows of iridescence and can grow to an impressive 7 inches in length (17.8 cm).
Mantis shrimp are known for their powerful punch, delivering 1500 newtons of force, equal to a 0.22 caliber bullet. This makes them one of the strongest animals on the planet and definitely not reef-safe tank mates. For obvious reasons, these shrimp need to be kept alone in their own tanks of at least 20 gallons (75.7 L) or more. You should note that Mantis shrimp are very capable of punching through glass aquariums. As a result, many hobbyists choose to keep these aggressive predators in stronger, acrylic tanks.
Otherwise, they appreciate low lighting and rock foundations where they can burrow. Mantis shrimp are notorious for burying leftover food in the substrate, leading to nutrient spikes in the water column.
Because of this, regular water changes are needed, and a good filtration system should be installed.
The most exciting part about owning a Mantis shrimp is feeding it. Mantis can regularly be fed anything from fish to mollusks to anything in between; they greatly prefer live, meaty foods that make them exhibit their natural predatory behaviors but will accept frozen food and freeze-dried options as well.
It is not uncommon for your Mantis shrimp to decorate its burrow with shells and other objects in the tank, so make sure you secure anything you don’t want to be moved.
Are you looking for something new to add to your tank that isn’t a fish or a coral? A saltwater shrimp might be the thing you’re looking for.
There are many different species of shrimp available in the hobby. Some are reef-safe and active grazers, while others can only be kept with particular tank mates and might not be out as much. No matter the case, there is a shrimp for almost every saltwater setup!
If you have any questions about any of the saltwater species on this list, freshwater shrimp, or have had experience with other members of the crustacean family, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!