There are two different shrimp species sometimes called tiger shrimp. Penaeus monodon is a member of the penaeid family of saltwater shrimp, native to the waters of the Indo Pacific region and an important part of the aquaculture industry. The other species is Caridina cantonensis "Tiger," a freshwater shrimp found in the southern part of China. This tiger shrimp is sold in the aquarium trade but is not otherwise commercially important.
In addition to the tiger shrimp appellation, Penaeus monodon is also called the Asian tiger shrimp, black tiger shrimp, tiger prawn and giant tiger prawn. "Giant" is a fitting name for these shrimp, as they reach a length of 10.5 to 13 inches (26.5 to 33 cm) and weigh an average of 5.25 ounces (about 150 grams). Females are usually larger than males.
The Asian tiger shrimp is native to the ocean of south and southeast Asia, Australia, the Philippines, and East Africa. It is probably the shrimp most commonly found in aquaculture and is raised commercially not only in its native range but in other parts of the world such as the Caribbean. Specimens of this shrimp have occasionally been found in the waters off the eastern US, but there is no sign of a population established there. Authorities theorize that these isolated individuals probably escaped from commercial operations.
In the wild, adult Asian tiger shrimp live on the ocean floor at depths of 100 to 160 feet (about 20 – 50 m) Depending on the area, their shells can be brown, gray, green, red, or blue, with alternating stripes of blue or black, and yellow. Larval and juvenile stage Asian tiger shrimp live in coastal estuaries, mangrove swamps and lagoons. The shrimp are predatory, hunting all kinds of small marine life, and they also scavenge for food.
Caridina cantonensis "Tiger," the freshwater shrimp, is much smaller than the Asian tiger shrimp, reaching a maximum length of 1 to 1.25 inches (about 2.5 to 3 cm). Females are larger and have a rounder body on the underside. The young do not go through a larval stage, but instead hatch out as tiny versions of adults.
They are a popular species for aquariums, easy to care for and to breed, and not aggressive with other aquarium dwellers. The tiger shrimp itself has a yellow tail and head, with black stripes on the body. There are several other subspecies of Caridina cantonensis, varying principally in body color. Blue, red and black are some of the variations. The various subspecies can interbreed and will often produce offspring with mixed colors.
Tiger Shrimp Invasive Populations
The Asian tiger shrimp has also been deemed an invasive species in Gulf of Mexico waters. In 1998, a population of tiger shrimp from an aquaculture farm was accidentally released in southern U.S. waters. Ever since, tiger prawns have been captured along the shores of Texas, Alabama, Florida and other southern states. Some tiger prawns have also been found in the Caribbean and along the coast of West Africa.
The problem with this shrimp is its large size compared to native shrimp species in the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean waters. Giant tiger prawns prey on smaller, native shrimp and could potentially endanger other species of shrimp in these regions. The local authorities encourage fishermen to keep any tiger prawns they catch. Farming of this invasive species is prohibited in Texas.
Tiger Prawn Consumption
The large size of the tiger prawn and its sweet, buttery taste makes it an excellent shrimp for eating. Most tiger prawns used for food are farmed rather than wild-caught. Nearly 50% of all cultivated shrimp in the world are tiger prawns. When shopping for black tiger shrimp, follow these tips:
- Check out local Asian markets to find this type of shrimp instead of going to your everyday grocery store.
- Smell the shrimp before purchasing. Fresh shrimp should have a slight seawater smell. If the smell is strong or foul, avoid it.
- Opt for raw shrimp that still has the head and tail on for the freshest product.
- The packaging should indicate the ratings and country of origin of the farmed shrimp.
- Most tiger prawns for consumption come from Asian shrimp farms, are frozen when shipped and are thawed once they arrive at the market.
Tiger shrimp are cultivated around the world at hatcheries. Most of the world's cultivated tiger prawns are exported to countries in Europe. Tiger prawn hatcheries produce larvae in massive amounts. The farms may start out by catching wild spawners, which can release more than 200,000 eggs in stocking ponds.
Larvae take about three weeks to reach the postlarvae stage. At this point, the prawns can start feeding on plankton. Farmers then start weaning the young and switching them to commercial feed. The babies reach maturity and are ready for harvesting after a few months. At that point, they are trapped, washed and either frozen or cooked.
Tiger prawns are also vulnerable to various types of diseases in the wild and when grown in aquaculture. They are susceptible to the Yellowhead Virus, White Spot Syndrome Virus, Baculoviral Midgut Gland Necrosis and Monodon Baculovirus. All of these diseases are highly contagious and can wipe out populations in a small habitat. In an aquaculture setting, an outbreak could be devastating.
The tiger prawn farming industry also has an environmental impact on coastal areas. Many of these farms are located along coastal waters. The aquaculture farm ponds may release chemicals, biological waste and antibiotics from shrimp cultivation into the oceans and estuaries. Additionally, some of the salt used for cultivation may seep into the groundwater.
Breeding the "Tiger" Bee Shrimp
The other type of popular tiger shrimp, the freshwater bee shrimp, is not consumed. Instead, this shrimp is cultivated for home aquarium enjoyment. Hobbyists have been selectively breeding bee shrimp for specific colors and patterns.
Home aquarists and professional bee shrimp breeders start with a small group of male and female shrimp housed together in one aquarium. If water conditions are ideal, the shrimp may start to breed and produce young. The young hatch between 24 and 28 days later, depending on the temperature of the water in the tank. Water that is kept too warm may end up with faster development and higher mortality for young and adult shrimp.
Bee shrimp are finicky when it comes to water perimeters and aquarium habitat. They prefer an established aquarium over a new tank setup. It should be a freshwater tank that has plenty of crevices and hiding spots for these tiny critters when they feel shy or threatened. The temperature should be a little cooler than a standard tropical aquarium. Home aquarium enthusiasts can add plants, rocks, driftwood and a good layer of substrate.
Diet and Care
In the home aquarium, bee shrimp can be fed pellets and flakes that sink to the bottom. They also enjoy eating algae, so they should be provided with algae wafers or natural algae in the tank. The shrimp may also scavenge leftover food and debris from plants. They should only be housed with peaceful fish and other freshwater creatures that don't see bee shrimp as prey.