Re:Harlequin Shrimp

Pete Giwojna

Dear arcprolife:

Harlequin shrimp belong to a group of colorful, very fancy shrimp in the genus Hymenocera whose diet consists solely of starfish. They are commonly known as Elegant shrimp, Harlequin shrimp, Painted shrimp, Clown shrimp, and Dancing shrimp and are quite beautiful, having pinkish or purplish polka dots and saddles against a white background. They are 1-2 inches long with large, flattened claws that resemble flower petals, which they use to display to one another. To me, they always look like animated orchids. They are shy, gentle, and completely harmless (except to starfish) so they should certainly do well with seahorses. They occur as mated pairs and are one of my favorite shrimp.

Two species are available — Hymenocera elegans, which tends to have purplish or violet polka dots, and Hymenocera picta, which tends to have pinkish polka dots. I have kept both species and found them fascinating. They are rather pricey for shrimp but well worth the cost as long as you can provide them with adequate water quality (low nitrates and no copper!).

Despite their ghoulish dining habits, water quality is not an issue when the gaudy Harlequin shrimp are feeding due to the manner in which they consume their prey. They prefer to feed on starfish with tube feet but they don’t kill them out right. Rather, they overturn the hapless starfish and then immobilize it by daintily eating its tube feet first, so that they can dine on the crippled starfish at their leisure. When they are done with the tubefeet, they will usually proceed to work on its arms next. Given their amazing ability to lose arms and regenerate as long as their body disc is left intact, the unfortunate incapacitated starfish remains alive right up until the bitter end. One meal last them a long, long time, so a pair of harlequins does not need to be fed often.

If you have a chance to acquire a pair of Harlequin shrimp, go for it! They are beautiful and really fascinating to observe. But as with all shrimp, they do best in well-established aquariums with stable water quality, so they are not good candidates for newly cycled tanks.

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna

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