Terrible puns aside, many marine creatures display mutualism - a behaviour where two or more species interact in a way that benefits them both. Cleaner shrimps are great examples of mutualists, even though they are little shellfish, they are not even a little selfish. The Two Oceans Aquarium has several species of shrimp, some symbiotic with other species and others not, each contributing to harmonious reef life in their own way.

Skunk cleaner shrimp

Skunk cleaner shrimps (Lysmata ambionensis) commonly designate a specific part of their reef as a “cleaning station’, where they perform a simple dance. This dance signals to passing fish that the shrimp's cleaning services are available; the fish will then swim up to it and be cleaned (you can sometimes see this in the middle of our coral reef in the Indian Ocean Gallery).

These shrimps often share caves with larger fish, such as groupers or moray eels, who protect the shrimp in return for the health benefits of being cleaned. The shrimp are omnivorous, and are quite capable of hunting other invertebrates (including rival cleaner shrimp), but usually only do so when there aren't enough fish around to be cleaned.

Skunk cleaner shrimps will clean out just about any dirty mouth that comes to their "cleaning station"... Please do not try this at home, or on your next diving trip! 

Fire shrimp

The fire shrimp (Lysmata debelius) is a cleaner shrimp that removes parasites and dead tissue from reef fish. Fire shrimps are fiercely territorial and will attack another shrimp infringing on its territory. They are able to recognise members of their own species and form long-term bonds with a mate.

You can see our fire shrimp defending its little cave in the cleaner shrimp display in the Indian Ocean Gallery.

Sand shrimp

The tiny sand shrimp (Palaemon peringueyi) is a scavenger, common in intertidal pools and off the rocky coast along the western coast of Southern Africa and the southern Cape. Sand shrimps are “carideans” which, unlike our cleaner shrimps, are not hermaphrodites (which have both male and female reproductive organs).

This species does not "clean" animals, but their ability to survive off virtually any food scraps, as well as their prolific breeding, makes them a vital part of the food chain (in fact, many of the sand shrimp in the Aquarium are planktonic fish food that have survived into maturity).

Which shrimp is your favourite? Maybe you prefer the closely related mantis shrimp or tiger prawns? Or perhaps the giant spider crab is your favourite crustacean? Explore the Aquarium and let us know.

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