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What are Cleaner Shrimp?

Rebecca Cartwright
Rebecca Cartwright

Cleaner shrimp are shrimp that approach fish and clean parasites, dead skin and damaged scales from them. The shrimp benefit from this because items cleaned from the fish are their main source of food. Fish benefit from having irritating items removed and potential infections stopped. Several types of shrimp engage in cleaning behavior, but the best known is Lysmata amboinensis, the Pacific cleaner shrimp, and this is the species usually referred to simply as “cleaner shrimp.” Skunk cleaner shrimp and white-banded shrimp are other names for the same species.

The tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific region and the Red Sea are the natural habitat of the cleaner shrimp. Except in the larval stage, they live exclusively on reefs. They reach a maximum length of 2 to 2.3 inches long (5 to 6 cm) and are very colorful. A white stripe runs the length of their backs, bordered by two red bands, and they have two white spots on either side of their bodies. Their vivid body markings plus red tail and four long white antenna make it easy for fish that want cleaning to find them.

Cleaner shrimp remove algae, parasites, and more from fish.
Cleaner shrimp remove algae, parasites, and more from fish.

Fish and the cleaner shrimp interact at cleaning stations, places on the reef where the shrimp can usually be found, so fish know they can find cleaning services there. Although items cleaned from fish are the main source of food for the shrimp, they also scavenge on the reef for other food. The shrimp are very social with their own species and with others and have no fear of the fish they clean. They will even enter a fish’s mouth and gills to clean off interior parasites.

Cleaner shrimp molt about every four to six weeks. As the conditions in their native habitat are very stable, without seasonal light or temperature variations, they spawn year round. At each spawning, a female lays 200 to 500 eggs, which the adults carry on their shells until they hatch five to seven days later. The parents then release the tiny larvae into the ocean currents, where they drift as part of the ocean’s plankton. In five to six months they become adults and find a reef on which to live.

The shrimp live naturally in pairs or groups and as many as 100 have been found living together. They are protandrous hermaphrodites, which means that they begin adult life as males and later become females. Cleaner shrimp are easy to keep in marine aquariums and will clean fish in captivity as well as they do in the wild.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly are cleaner shrimp?

Cleaner shrimp are a group of shrimp species known for their symbiotic relationship with other marine animals. They provide a 'cleaning' service by removing parasites, dead tissue, and food remnants from their 'clients,' which include fish and other sea creatures. This mutualistic interaction benefits both parties: the shrimp get a meal, and their clients maintain good health.

Where can you typically find cleaner shrimp in the ocean?

Cleaner shrimp are commonly found in warm, tropical waters around coral reefs and rocky outcrops. They inhabit areas with high biodiversity, as this increases their chances of encountering a variety of potential 'clients.' These shrimp often set up cleaning stations where fish know to come for their cleaning service.

How do cleaner shrimp benefit the marine ecosystem?

Cleaner shrimp play a crucial role in maintaining the health of marine ecosystems. By removing parasites and dead tissue from fish, they help prevent disease outbreaks that could have devastating effects on fish populations. Their cleaning services also strengthen the symbiotic relationships within the reef community, promoting biodiversity and ecological balance.

What do cleaner shrimp eat?

Cleaner shrimp primarily feed on the ectoparasites and dead skin they remove from their client fish. However, they are opportunistic feeders and may also consume organic matter, plankton, and small particles of food floating in the water or left behind by other animals, thus showcasing their adaptability in their diet.

How do fish know where to find cleaner shrimp?

Fish locate cleaner shrimp by recognizing specific visual cues and behaviors exhibited by the shrimp, such as their distinctive color patterns and the gentle swaying dance they perform at their cleaning stations. These signals communicate the shrimp's availability to provide cleaning services, attracting fish in need of parasite removal.

Are cleaner shrimp kept in home aquariums, and if so, what care do they require?

Yes, cleaner shrimp are popular in home aquariums due to their interesting behavior and beneficial cleaning services. They require a well-maintained tank with stable water conditions, hiding places, and a diet supplemented with small pieces of fish, shrimp, or commercially available food. Proper acclimation and avoiding copper-based medications are essential for their care.

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    • Cleaner shrimp remove algae, parasites, and more from fish.
      By: wizdata_apple
      Cleaner shrimp remove algae, parasites, and more from fish.