Once the reef aquarium is up and running, the fish stocked and the corals settled, many aquarists feel that everything is finished. It could well be finished and the aquarist satisfied and if that is the case all is well and good.
However it can sometimes happen that the aquarist gets that ‘itch’, that desire to add something to the aquarium. Often this could be a fish but this should not be done if the aquarium is fully stocked, it’s bad practice. However, if the aquarium is understocked then provided all is well another fish could be the way – but it is another fish even though it is likely to be a different colour and/or shape. Why not take the opportunity to add something ‘reefy’ and definitely different such as a shrimp.
There are quite a few shrimps which can be obtained, however some are shy and not seen a great deal and some are a bit less than fully sociable. One shrimp (ok, it happens to be my favourite!) is the cleaner shrimp (Lysmata amboinensis). This shrimp is very attractive, doesn’t hide much and is sociable with its own kind.
As the name implies, in the wild these shrimps will earn a living by removing parasites, dead skin etc from fish as well as eating anything else generally available.
The shrimp could grow to about 3″ (8 cm) which is not excessive for most reef aquariums.
Obviously it is important that there aren’t any other mobile invertebrates that could cause the cleaner shrimps trouble. Most reef aquarium fish are compatible, though if there is any doubt research needs to be done. In addition when shrimps are being transferred from the transport container as usual the seawater needs to be equalized by adding very small quantities of aquarium seawater to the container every 10 minutes. Float the container in the aquarium if possible to maintain and equalize the temperature. After an hour transfer the shrimp to the aquarium, but never expose them to air make sure they are under water all the time.
As said cleaner shrimps are sociable and two in the aquarium make a great sight. They could attempt to clean fish and maybe succeed occasionally though my experience is that the fish are generally not really interested. The shrimp will take any eatable odds and ends and quickly learn that food intended for the fish is just as palatable to them. They’ll position themselves on a high rock as soon as food is detected in the seawater and attempt to grab some, and even swim into the seawater column in pursuit though when swimming they are not as adept as fish. The shrimp can make feeding time even more interesting as using a small pair of suitable grips a flake or whatever can be delived to them which they’ll accept with gusto. They can even be fed from the fingers once they are settled and used to routines.
At aquarium cleaning times the shrimp will sometimes rise to a high rock (maybe expecting food) and if the aquarist’s hand is placed in the seawater the shrimp could move onto the hand and explore. Maybe the hand is seen as a strangely shaped fish.
It isn’t unknown for a suitable pair of cleaner shrimp to breed in the aquarium with the female carrying the eggs under the abdomen. Once the shrimps hatch however they’ll soon be gone becoming just an extra feed for the fish. If breeding is intended there shouldn’t be any fish or other potential predators present.
As always it is important that the seawater is of high quality and the reef has places where the shrimp can hide. Don’t worry immediately if a shrimp disappears for a while then a seemingly dead shrimp is noticed. The shrimp could have moulted. Given healthy aquarium conditions cleaner shrimp will live long and are easy to care for. They provide something different and are also colourful, endearing and sometimes amusing.