Re:cleaner shrimp diet

Pete Giwojna

Dear Carolina:

Sure — that’s an excellent idea to do a trial run with the red feeder shrimp from Hawaii (Halocaridina rubra) to see how well you can keep them. They are accustomed to low salinity conditions in the lava tubes that are their normal habitat, but they do indeed adapt well to a wide range of salinity as long as they are carefully acclimated. You should find them easy to keep and dispense as occasional light treats, and if so, they will be ideal for your fish sitter to dispense while you’re away on short trips.

The fire shrimp (Lysmata debelius) are stunning and are very unlikely to cause problems with the seahorses or to compete with them for the frozen Mysis, but they are also the most shy and inoffensive of the shrimp. They can be reclusive at first, and often prefer to hang out under overhangs or within the shelter of caves, at least initially, but they will normally become bolder and more outgoing when they get adjusted to the aquarium and realized they are safe. They are apt to be leery of the seahorses at first, but they will eventually realize that the ponies are not attempting to make a meal out of them, after which they will interact with the seahorses normally.

Adding another fire shrimp could be helpful, Carolina, since they are commonly found in pairs or large groups. The presence of another fire shrimp may help make them feel more secure and therefore more inclined to perform the grooming services they normally provide for their tankmates.

Normally all of the various decorative shrimp do very well with seahorses with the exception of Coral Banded Shrimp (Stenopus hispidus), which are a little too aggressive for the ponies. Most of the time cleaner shrimp do great with seahorses, but sometimes the cleaner shrimp cause problems at feeding time and, on other occasions, the seahorses may give the colorful shrimp a hard time.

For instance, Peppermint Shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni) and/or Scarlet Cleaner Shrimp or Skunk Cleaner Shrimp (Lysmata amboinensis) are popular additions to seahorse tanks to augment the cleanup crew and add a touch of color and activity to the tank. Peppermint shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni) are a favorite with seahorse keepers because they eat Aiptasia rock anemones, and both the peppermints and Scarlet cleaner shrimp (Lysmata amboinensis) will perform another useful service by grooming the seahorses and cleaning them of ectoparasites. As an added bonus, they reproduce regularly in the aquarium, producing swarms of larval nauplii that the seahorses love to eat.

Yet once established in the aquarium, those beautiful red shrimp species are much more active feeders than seahorses. They’ll come flying across the tank the moment that enticing scent of frozen mysids hits the water, raiding the feeding station and snatching Mysis right out of the ‘horse’s snouts. Does that mean they’re incompatible with seahorses? Heck no, you just shoo the pesky shrimp out of the way at dinnertime and target feed the seahorses, making sure each of them gets its fill.

Other seahorse keepers caution against cleaner shrimp not because the shrimp could outcompete the ponies for frozen Mysis, but because their seahorses don’t discriminate between feeder shrimp and decorative shrimp, and may be inclined to add the expensive cleaner shrimp to their dinner menu. When introducing decorative shrimp in a seahorse setup, it is important to select good-sized cleaner shrimp for this very reason. Live shrimp is the favorite food of all seahorses and, up to a certain point, they will not hesitate to attack shrimp that are too large to be eaten in one bite.

Okay, Carolina, those are some of the things to keep in mind when introducing cleaner shrimp to your seahorse setup. In my experience, peppermint shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni) are the least likely to cause any problems by being too overenthusiastic when grooming the seahorses or pursuing frozen Mysis, but they are also the most likely for the seahorses to regard as a potential meal. Large Scarlet Cleaner Shrimp (Lysmata amboinensis), also known as skunk cleaner shrimp, are the least likely to be considered a tasty treat by the seahorses, but are the most likely to cause problems by attempting to hog the frozen Mysis or to be too persistent when grooming the ponies. The gorgeous fire shrimp (Lysmata debelius) are a good compromise in most cases, since they grow big enough not to be regarded as a potential meal and are normally not at all inclined to become too boisterous when grooming or too greedy at mealtime. Fire shrimp are shy and reclusive, but I would not hesitate to add another fire shrimp since they are more comfortable when kept in small groups.

Okay, as long as Snoopy is not scratching himself persistently, I wouldn’t be concerned about his behavior. Let me know if you notice any more scratching or itching, but as long as he has a healthy appetite and a healthy interest in Clara, his mate, I don’t think there’s anything to be worried about…

Best wishes with all your fishes, Carolina!

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna

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