Types Of Saltwater Shrimp – 12 Great Ones (With Pictures!)

Saltwater shrimp make popular pets, and there are many different types to choose from. In this blog post, we will take a look at 12 different saltwater shrimp species that can be found in the reef hobby. Each species will be accompanied by a picture and some information on care requirements. So, if you’re thinking of adding a saltwater shrimp to your tank, read on for some great options!

Introduction To Saltwater Shrimp

Freshwater shrimp get all the attention while saltwater shrimp get thrown into the tank as a last-minute addition. Marine shrimp are just as cool as freshwater shrimp, with bright colors and bold personalities. The only problem is that you can’t have as many as you could in a freshwater tank and some species have more exact requirements.

What Does A Cleaner Shrimp Look Like

However, there are many benefits to having a shrimp in your saltwater aquarium and there is usually no additional care needed.

Are Shrimp Good For Saltwater Tanks?

Yes! Many saltwater shrimp are beneficial to the aquarium, whether it be through behaviors or appearance. Most saltwater shrimp species have something unique about them. For instance, cleaner shrimp will help keep reef fish parasite-free while harlequin shrimp will help get rid of pests. Of course, there are also decorative shrimp that can help fill up an empty spot on the reef.

Are Saltwater Shrimp Hard To Keep?

In general, saltwater shrimp are not difficult to keep. They require the same water conditions and parameters as other fish and corals; if you can keep fish alive you can likely keep shrimp alive. Like freshwater shrimp, saltwater shrimp are sensitive to copper.

There are a few species of saltwater shrimp that have demanding diets, like the harlequin shrimp and peppermint shrimp, though there is a species for every level of hobbyist.

Why Did Your Shrimp’s Shell Come Off?

Both freshwater and saltwater shrimp molt. This is the process by which these animals grow, shedding their old shell in the process.

When this happens, many beginner hobbyists think their shrimp has died as these removed shells can look exactly like a dead shrimp. If you’re concerned, search around the tank for your shrimp. They’ll usually be in the back of the aquarium as they are very vulnerable after molting. Do not remove the molt as the shrimp will eat this to regain nutrients!

If you find that your shrimp isn’t molting on a regular one to two month basis, then there might not be enough calcium available in the water column. Trace elements may be dosed into the aquarium or calcium blocks may be supplemented.

Saltwater Shrimp Aquarium Requirements

As mentioned before, saltwater shrimp aren’t too difficult to keep happy and healthy. There is little that needs to be changed in a mature saltwater tank in order to keep a shrimp.

Tank Size

Saltwater shrimp don’t take up a lot of space. Even the larger species typically stay in one section of the tank after they’ve established a territory.

Hobbyists have fit most saltwater shrimp species into a 5 gallon tank, including cleaner shrimp. This isn’t recommended for everyone, though smaller species can comfortably live in near-pico conditions.

One of the most popular nano shrimp stockings is a pistol shrimp with a goby; for example, hobbyists have had success with a yasha goby (Stonogobiops yasha) and Randall’s pistol shrimp in tanks as small as 5 gallons.

Tank Setup

Shrimp don’t need any special setup, though they will do best with matured live rock. Live rock will provide your shrimp with food and shelter. More timid species, like the blood red fire shrimp, will appreciate several caves towards the back of the tank for protection. All species of shrimp will be found picking at algae and small organisms in and around the rockscape.

If planning to go with a species of pistol shrimp, it is important to think about how their burrowing behavior will alter the rockscape. To help prevent collapse, the rock should be secured by sand or gravel. The structure should be tested regularly to make sure that your fish and shrimp don’t get injured.

How Many Saltwater Shrimp Can Be Kept Together?

Most shrimp like to be the only shrimp in the saltwater aquarium but some do well in groups.

One of the most popular combinations of shrimp tank mates is the blood red fire shrimp and cleaner shrimp. However, this pairing doesn’t work unless the tank is well over 100 gallons. Though peaceful shrimp on their own, blood red fire shrimp and cleaner shrimp will be aggressive towards each other in close proximity.

Sexy shrimp, harlequin shrimp, and peppermint shrimp all do well in a group setting with their own species.

What Do Saltwater Shrimp Eat?

Saltwater shrimp are largely scavengers that will eat anything they come across on the substrate or in the rocks. Unlike freshwater shrimp, they are unlikely to treat algae problems. They will gladly swim out into the water column for fish flakes and thawed meaty foods.

Some saltwater shrimp have special diets, which can make keeping them more difficult. For example, harlequin shrimp heavily rely on echinoderms, like starfish and sea urchins, for food. This means that hobbyists need a constant supply to keep their shrimp fed.

Types of Saltwater Shrimp

While the selection of saltwater aquarium shrimp is limited, there is a shrimp for everyone! Unfortunately, shrimp prices have risen dramatically in the past couple of years, though shrimp will live for about 2-5 years on average.

When buying a shrimp, it’s important to know whether or not the species is reef-safe. Reef-safe mainly refers to compatibility with corals, though this can also include safety with fellow invertebrates as well.

1. Blood Red Fire Shrimp

Fire Shrimp
  • Scientific Name: Lysmata debelius
  • Adult Size: 2 inches
  • Color Pattern: Bright red with white spots on the upper back
  • Unique Traits: Some cleaner shrimp behaviors
  • Reef-safe: Yes

The blood red fire shrimp is one of the most eye-catching invertebrates in all of the saltwater fish tank keeping hobby. These shrimp are big and bright red. They have the same lobster-like appearance as the scarlet skunk cleaner shrimp but are much more intense in coloration.

In many other ways, these two shrimp species are similar. Both the fire shrimp and cleaner shrimp hide in the rockwork, cleaning up waste and detritus. However, fire shrimp are usually timider and don’t regularly exhibit fish-cleaning behaviors such as cleaner shrimp do. Because of this, they’ll usually resort to shadier overhangs, only coming out for food.

2. Banded Coral Shrimp

Coral Banded Shrimp in Ocean
  • Scientific Name: Stenopus hispidus
  • Adult Size: 3 inches
  • Color Pattern: Red and white stripes
  • Unique Traits: Large pincers
  • Reef-safe: With caution

Banded coral shrimp are one of the largest shrimp species available for the saltwater aquarium growing to be about 3 inches in length, but surpassing that with extended pincers and antennae. These shrimp are sought after for more aggressive, predatory fish tanks. In most cases, banded coral shrimp can hold their own against larger fish.

This isn’t to say that they’re aggressive, though. Some hobbyists have had overly aggressive banded coral shrimp while others have had no problem pairing them with peaceful fish and even other shrimp species–though we do not recommend this.

The banded coral shrimp is a large, extroverted shrimp that can be seen floating around the tank in search of leftover food and other wastes.

3. Scarlet Shunk Cleaner Shrimp

Cleaner Shrimp in Reef Tank
  • Scientific Name: Lysmata amboinensis
  • Adult Size: 2 inches
  • Color Pattern: Red and white stripes with yellow
  • Unique Traits: Cleaner shrimp behavior
  • Reef-safe: Yes

Scarlet skunk cleaner shrimp, also known as red skunk cleaner shrimp or simply as cleaner shrimp, are hands down the most popular saltwater shrimp species to find in the home aquarium. These shrimp are colorful and full of character.

Scarlet skunk cleaner shrimp exhibit cleaning behavior much more than the related fire shrimp. This shrimp species sets up a cleaning post on the side of the rocks where fish and other marine invertebrates come to be cleaned of dead skin, tissue, parasites, and other imperfections. They will not hesitate to even get under your nails when you put your hands in the reef tank for maintenance!

Cleaner shrimp are compatible with nearly all saltwater fish species and can help keep them healthy. They’ve even been paired with more aggressive species as those fish seem to be aware of their cleaning benefits.

4. Peppermint Shrimp

  • Scientific Name: Lysmata wurdemanni
  • Adult Size: 2 inches
  • Color Pattern: Reddish-brown, light stripes
  • Unique Traits: Forms groups to eat Aiptasia
  • Reef-safe: With caution

Peppermint shrimp are a very useful shrimp species as they are effective at hunting down and eating pest anemones, like Aiptasia. While some hobbyists have had great success using 4-6 of these shrimp for pest control, some have seen their peppermint shrimp completely ignore Aiptasia or even opt for other coral altogether.

These shrimp love to be in groups and will be most active and present in the company of others. They tend to hide if left by themselves in the aquarium, but are completely peaceful to other fish; some caution is needed if Aiptasia populations run low or if there are a lot of soft corals in the reef aquarium.

The peppermint shrimp is commonly confused with the camel shrimp.

5. Marbled Shrimp

Marbled Shrimp in Reef
  • Scientific Name: Saron marmoratus
  • Adult Size: 2 inches
  • Color Pattern: Red, white, and sometimes green-speckled appearance
  • Unique Traits: Fuzzy camouflaged body
  • Reef-safe: No

Also known as the saron shrimp, the marbled shrimp is one of the less commonly seen shrimp species in the saltwater aquarium hobby. These shrimp are generally considered not reef-safe and should not be kept with corals. They are opportunistic feeders and are likely to eat other invertebrates.

Otherwise, these speckled shrimp are efficient substrate cleaners. They mainly hide in caves formed with the substrate and will help keep food and other waste from accumulating.

6. Sexy Shrimp

Sexy Shrimp in Tank
  • Scientific Name: Thor amboinensis
  • Adult Size: 1 inch
  • Color Pattern: Reddish-brown with large white dots
  • Unique Traits: Curled up tail and unique dance
  • Reef-safe: Yes

The marine shrimp with the best name, the sexy shrimp also has one of the most unique dances. These red and white dotted shrimp constantly sway back and forth, making it look like they’re moving with the current.

Sexy shrimp are very tiny and usually only grow to be about an inch big at mature size. Because of this, they like to form groups for safety in numbers. When kept in groups of at least three or more, sexy shrimp will gladly stay at the front of the reef tank displaying their dance.

7. Harlequin Shrimp

Harlequin Shrimp in Ocean
  • Scientific Name: Hymenocera picta
  • Adult Size: 1.5 inches
  • Color Pattern: White with pastel blue and purple spots
  • Unique Traits: Large pincers; specific starfish diet
  • Reef-safe: Yes

The harlequin shrimp is a favorite due to its pastel coloration, but these shrimp are one of the most difficult to keep due to their natural diet. These shrimp only eat starfish. This can make keeping them difficult and expensive in the long run for an inexperienced hobbyist.

Harlequin shrimp are the perfect addition to a large saltwater aquarium overrun with Asterina starfish. These shrimp flip the starfish on their back and eat them from the inside out. Many hobbyists supplement Asterina starfish with other larger species, like Linckia spp..

To help keep up with the demand and to cut costs, many hobbyists cultivate pest starfish in a separate aquarium.

8. Bumblebee Shrimp

Bumblebee Shrimp in Ocean
  • Scientific Name: Gnathophyllum americanum
  • Adult Size: 1 inch
  • Color Pattern: Alternating black, white, and yellow stripes
  • Unique Traits: Preferred echinoderm diet
  • Reef-safe: Yes

Not to be confused with the freshwater bumblebee shrimp (Caridina breviata), Gnathophyllum americanum is a saltwater shrimp that looks exactly like a bee! These shrimp have alternating black, white, and yellow stripes on top of a plump abdomen and short tail. The bumblebee shrimp may also be known as the striped harlequin shrimp.

Bumblebee shrimp are difficult to keep. Like regular harlequin shrimp, bumblebees need echinoderms, like starfish, included in their diets. Unlike the harlequin shrimp, bumblebee shrimp can be supplemented with other meaty foods as well.

Otherwise, bumblebee shrimp do great in nano aquariums with dimmed lighting.

9. Pistol Shrimp

Pistol Shrimp in Reef Tank
  • Scientific Name: Alpheus spp.
  • Adult Size: 3 inches
  • Color Pattern: Varies
  • Unique Traits: Creates loud snapping noise
  • Reef-safe: Yes

There are several species of pistol shrimp commonly found in the hobby, including the popular tiger pistol shrimp (Alpheus bellulus) and the Randall’s pistol shrimp (Alpheus randalli). These shrimp are typically named after the fish that they have a symbiotic relationship with; the “pistol” name is in reference to the shrimp’s hunting mechanism to create bubbles and pop the bubbles at speeds in excess of 60 mph to stun their prey. A loud, gunshot-like sound is the result.

Most pistol shrimp also have symbiotic relationships with fish, namely gobies. Many hobbyists choose to pair their shrimp with a goby. The shrimp helps build and maintain their tunnel home while the fish brings back food.

10. Camel Shrimp

Camel Shrimp in Ocean
  • Scientific Name: Rhynchocinetes durbanensis
  • Adult Size: 2 inches
  • Color Pattern: Red and white thin stripes
  • Unique Traits: Humped back
  • Reef-safe: No

The camel shrimp is also known as the hinge-beak shrimp, dancing shrimp, or candy shrimp. It is extremely common for camel shrimp to be confused with peppermint shrimp, especially by general pet stores. Here are a few ways to tell them apart:

  1. Coloration. Camel shrimp are usually very brightly colored with definable thin red and white alternating stripes. Peppermint shrimp are usually a dim, transparent red with less defined patterns.
  2. Body shape. Camel shrimp have very angular features. They are named after their distinct humped back that then leads into a pointed-upwards, sharp beak. Peppermint shrimp lack this hump and have a much broader body.
  3. Diet. One of the most important differences between these two shrimp species is their dietary preference. Peppermint shrimp are used to control Aiptasia and may occasionally go after a coral or two. On the other hand, camel shrimp are almost guaranteed to go after corals and are not considered to be reef-safe.

11. Peacock Mantis Shrimp

  • Scientific Name: Odontodactylus scyllarus
  • Adult Size: 4-7 inches
  • Color Pattern: Rainbow
  • Unique Traits: Deadly punch
  • Reef-safe: No

Probably one of the most fascinating animals on this planet, the peacock mantis shrimp has the strongest self-powered punch on earth. These shrimp have a punch that reaches speeds of 75 ft/sec, which is comparable to a .22 caliber bullet. Check out the video above by Love Nature for some great footage.

Does that mean they can break the glass in your aquarium?

Yes, they can. They can also cause some damage to fingers and hands if hit. These incredible shrimp use this ability to break open hard crab shells and other invertebrates. Most hobbyists keep them in a tank by themselves, though some have had success keeping them with fish.

12. Pederson’s Cleaner Shrimp

Pederson's Cleaner Shrimp
  • Scientific Name: Ancylomenes pedersoni
  • Adult Size: 1.5 inches
  • Color Pattern: Translucent with iridescent blue and purple
  • Unique Traits: Cleaner shrimp behavior
  • Reef-safe: Yes

The Pederson’s cleaner shrimp, also known as the Caribbean anemone shrimp, is not a common species of shrimp to find. They form symbiotic relationships with anemones as well as with fish. They help remove waste from anemones while also removing parasites from fish like other cleaner shrimp.

Which Saltwater Shrimp Are Reef Safe?

From our list, the reef safe types of saltwater shrimp are:

These species are not reef-safe or should be added with caution:

  • Banded coral shrimp
  • Peppermint shrimp
  • Marbled shrimp
  • Peacock mantis shrimp
  • Camel shrimp

Final Thoughts

Shrimp are a natural part of saltwater ecosystems. It only makes sense to add one to your home aquarium!

There are many different species of shrimp to choose from with some being more demanding than others. It’s important to pick the shrimp that is right for your aquarium and experience level. Always make sure that your tank can handle the additional bioload and that you avoid species that are not reef-safe if you have corals.

by Mark

Mark is the founder of Aquarium Store Depot. He started in the aquarium hobby at the age of 11 and along the way worked at local fish stores. He has kept freshwater tanks, ponds, and reef tanks for over 25 years. His site was created to share his knowledge and unique teaching style on a larger scale. He has worked on making aquarium and pond keeping approachable. Mark has been featured in two books about aquarium keeping - both best sellers on Amazon. Each year, he continues to help his readers and clients with knowledge, professional builds, and troubleshooting.

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