Species Spotlight

Harlequin Shrimp

Names: Harlequin Shrimp (Hymenocera picta).

Size: Small (we’re talking 1 to 2 inches), with ladies a little larger than their one-and-only man.

Communication: They’re said to sense prey by smell using their antennae.

Favourite hangout: Coral reefs in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Favourite snack: Most shrimp guzzle whatever they can get their pincers on, but these pretties are pickier – dining exclusively on starfish. And they’re not put off by stars larger than themselves. Harlequins work with their mates to disable those that are said to be many times their size. They seem to be particularly drawn to stars known as Crown-of-thorns, which are known to destroy coral reefs.

Two Harlequin Shrimp look at each other.

If you see them: Prepare to be dazzled. The creamy white bodies of these Reef Beauty Queens are artfully splattered with blue, purple, red, magenta, and orange. 

Pet peeves: Those in the know say that Harlequins are feeling the impact of coral reefs under stress, pollution, fishing, and changing water chemistry.

Epic journeys: Doesn’t really apply. These guys are territorial and monogamous, and never far from their shrimpy sweethearts.

Growth: As they grow, Harlequins shed their exoskeletons and wait an hour or so for the new one to harden.

Facts: (Warning: INTENSE) Harlequin shrimp are first-rate hunters who wouldn’t know a mercy killing if it was served to them – with a starfish side! Once a romantic twosome has detected its victim, the couple flips the unlucky star to immobilise it, then tucks into soft parts, like feet. Their ‘meal’ can last days or weeks. To keep it fresh, these ruthless diners may force feed their victim, so it stays alive until the grisly end. It’s rumoured they got the idea from foie gras!

Personality type? The Starfish Collector? The Feeder. 

How at risk is it? Although it hasn’t been officially evaluated by the IUCN, the Harlequin shrimp’s population is thought to be declining. 

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