harlequin shrimp

(Hymenocera picta)

Harlequin Shrimp , if observed, are beautiful and graceful creatures.  You may see them swaying back and forth peacefully waving their paddle like claws as if dancing. They form monogamous pairs, usually spending their entire life with the same partner. I know what you’re thinking, naaaw what sweet, lovely little organisms, in thinking this you would be wrong!

These unique little shrimp are vicious, calculated predators. Not only do they work together to capture their prey, but they also abduct it and drag it back to their lair where they keep it alive long enough to devour it entirely, which can take up to a week!

Although grizzly behaviour indeed, you must admire the inventive tactics employed by the Harlequin Shrimp to get what it wants most, starfish.

Harlequin Shrimp eat starfish exclusively, they’ve even been known to take on the infamous crown of Thorns Starfish. So how do they manage such a feat when a starfish can be up to 100 times the weight of these tiny hunters?

Working as a team, one shrimp snips suction-tube feet from each arm of its prey. Meanwhile, it’s mate gradually pulls the Sea Star over onto its back. Once that’s accomplished, the pair drag their hapless victim off to a preferred dining spot, typically under a rocky ledge or coral head.

Harlequin Shrimps usually spend their whole life with one partner and together they hunt and defend their homes. Harlequin Shrimps mate shortly after the females’ moult (shedding of her shell). The female produces between 100 and 5,000 eggs per season, depending on environmental factors. She will tend and clean the eggs until they hatch. Mating for life, a monogamous Harlequin Shrimp pair will become territorial


what's their status?


Harlequin Shrimp are truly amazing, rare and unique animals and like many other marine organisms they are under threat from human impacts.

They have not been evaluated under CITES or assessed for the IUCN red list, meaning very little is know about the state of their population status.

They do however suffer as a result of coral reef damage and the Aquarium trade.


What can I DO TO HELP?

If you want to keep seeing amazing critters like these guys in their natural habitat then help us care for our oceans, and don’t buy pets caught from the wild. 

It's very important to dive responsibly and make sure your fellow divers and dive guides do as well. If you see someone harassing or moving a marine creature intervene, or tell your dive guide before the dive that you don't approve of marine life being touched or poked by pointers for your amusement.  


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