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Skunk cleaner shrimp

Skunk cleaner shrimp

The skunk cleaner shrimp is a member of the Lysmata genus, a group of shrimps notable for their symbiotic relationships with other species, such as moray eels.

Cleaner shrimps commonly designate a specific part of their reef as a ‘cleaning station’, where they perform a simple dance. This dance signals to passing fishes that the shrimp is available to perform cleaning services such as removing parasites and dead tissue.  

Commonly these shrimps cohabitate with large fish, such as groupers or moray eels, in crevasses or caves, the fish will protect the shrimp in return for the health benefits. The shrimp are omnivorous, and are quite capable of hunting other invertebrates (including rival cleaner shrimps), but usually only do so when there is competition for resources.

Skunk cleaner shrimps are characterised by their long white antennae. As they mature, a white stripe develops along the back of their carapace, dividing two vivid red bands. Unfortunately for the skunk shrimp, their poor eyesight and colour-blindness has led scientists to believe that they are unable see each other’s beautiful patterns.

The adult skunk cleaner shrimp carries its eggs in a set of arms (pleopods) under its body. The eggs hatch into larvae that free-float as plankton, hunting other planktonic animals until taking a more mature shrimp form. All skunk shrimps start life as males, but become functional hermaphrodites once fully mature.

It is believed that skunk cleaner shrimps are monogamous, and spend their entire lives with a single mate. These mates will take turns protecting the other when they moult, and will also alternate male and female roles between breeding cycles.

The skunk cleaner shrimp has not yet been assessed for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 

  • Also known as the Pacific cleaner shrimp or white-banded shrimp.
  • Widespread species across the world’s tropics, and a common inhabitant of coral reefs at 5 to 40 metres deep.
  • Uses its small pincers to clean dead tissue and parasites from fish.
  • Can grow up to 6cm long.