The Cleaner Shrimp

One of the great advantages of running a marine system is the different types of livestock that could be housed. The diversity in the aquarium will never equal or come near that on the wild reef, but there is enough to create a great deal of interest.

In addition to various types of fish, there are snails, crabs and shrimps. The aquarist has to be sure any of these additions are safe – ‘safe’ in this instance means they will not damage or eat other livestock, and in turn other livestock will not damage or eat them. For instance, some crabs are not welcome as they blunder about the aquarium and knock things over or even attack and damage corals, and similarly some shrimps are not welcome in an aquarium with starfish as they will attack and eat them. Likewise a shrimp placed in an aquarium with certain fish is in great danger of being consumed. However, many snails are of use in the control of algae and some hermit crabs can be of use as general housekeepers.

There is a shrimp that is very often the first ‘diversion’ from fish that a fairly new aquarist with a reef aquarium will be attracted to and this is the cleaner shrimp, properly named Lysmata amboinensis. Have a look at the shrimp via the link:

It is commonly called the cleaner shrimp because of its fish cleaning actions on the wild reef. The shrimp, with a number of its namesakes, set up a cleaning station on the reef which becomes well known to many fish of all sorts. The fish will even patiently wait their turn if the cleaners are busy. These fish come to the cleaning station so that the shrimps can remove parasites, growths, loose scales and other irritants from the fish’s surface. The little shrimps even go inside the gills and mouth of the fish with the fish ‘opening wide’ to permit this. It would be a quick snack for the fish but presumably they recognize the shrimp from its markings and movements and let it be. I read of an experiment on a wild reef where cleaner stations were removed from a specific quite large area and the incidence of problems such as fish disease increased. When the cleaner stations were re-introduced the problems diminished.

If the shrimps are to be introduced to the home aquarium it is important that they are acclimatized properly. This means that seawater in the transport container is reduced by half and seawater from the aquarium is dripped into the container using an air line and air line clamp. The drips should be a little short of a continuous stream and the container allowed to fill to its previous level. Some aquarists then repeat the process. The shrimp should not be exposed to the air. They settle in quickly. It goes without saying that the aquarist must be sure there is nothing already in the aquarium that could threaten the welfare of the shrimp. The shrimps can be kept as a group if required.

The shrimps soon become a favourite pet as they quickly respond to the presence of the aquarist – expecting food no doubt – and will climb on the aquarist’s hand if this is in the aquarium. They probably see the hand as a fish and proceed to move about on it looking for food. Feeding them is easy as they will accept directly offered small pieces of de-frozen food such as lance fish and mussel etc. They will even attempt to capture pieces of flake food and can learn to be quite successful.

In the aquarium they may attempt to clean fish as they would on the reef but this may be an irritant to the fish. In the aquarium the fish cannot move away from the ‘cleaning station’ but usually they move away far enough and trouble does not arise.

The shrimp is ‘reef safe’ and the reef system is the place for it to be housed. Being in a reef system also allows the shrimp to molt securely. Molting is when the shrimp casts off the old exoskeleton and hardens off a new one. This occurs as the exoskeleton does not grow so the shrimp from time to time needs a larger one. If a ‘dead’ shrimp appears it could well be the result of molting.

The cleaner shrimp described is not the only one as there is another that is very similar in appearance. This one is properly called Lysmata grabhami. It displays the same colour pattern except that the white marks on the ‘tail’ are missing – the white line that runs down the top and centre of the body extends to the end of the ‘tail’.

Once established in the aquarium, which does not normally present any problems, the little shrimps are super. Not only are they colourful and a contrast to fish, they are very likeable because of their amusing and friendly antics.