News / Species Spotlight / The Fire Shrimp (03/19/15)

The Fire Shrimp


  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Subphylum: Crustacea
  • Class: Malacostraca
  • Order: Decapoda
  • Family: Hippolytidae
  • Genus: Lysmata
  • Species: debelius

The fire shrimp displays a beautiful overall coloration of deep blood red. This is strikingly accented by numerous white spots on the carapace, and white antennae and forelegs. Most individuals look similar throughout their range, with the exception of those from the Maldives having additional white spots on the upper abdomen. The maximum size is around 2" (5cm).

Natural Habitat and Ecology

The fire shrimp has a widespread occurrence throughout the Indo-Pacific and Indian Ocean. Coral reefs are the typical habitat and this species is usually encountered at depths exceeding 60' (20m). Fire shrimps are among other species of shrimp that act as fish cleaners on a reef. Generally, a pair of shrimp will establish a prominent territory near a cave or crevice. From there, they will provide a unique service of cleaning parasites and dead skin from fishes. The white antennae are a visual cue that indicates to fish that the shrimp is a cleaner species. This characteristic white coloration is also found in cleaner shrimps from the genus Stenopus. Nearby fishes will come to recognize that the shrimp will clean them if they approach the territory. This is known as a "cleaning station". Sometimes fish will patiently wait their turn to be cleaned if others are being attended to. A fish will hold very still near a fire shrimp and allow the shrimp to climb onto the body for intensive inspection and cleaning. The fire shrimp perform a mutually beneficial service by helping the local residents as well as gaining something to eat for themselves.

Pairs of fire shrimps will reproduce continually. The greenish egg mass is protectively held beneath the abdomen of the female until the larvae hatch. Once free swimming, the larvae will enter the plankton undergoing several weeks of development.

Because cleaner shrimps perform a beneficial service to coral reef fishes, responsible collecting management must include only selective harvesting. The removal of all adult individuals from a large area could affect the health, behavior and ecology of local fishes. Holding facilities should not crowd this shrimp and hiding places and subdued lighting must be provided to reduce stress. It is recommended that specimens be packed individually for shipment. A small stone or some sand should be placed inside the bag to provide the shrimp with something stable and textured to hang onto. This reduces the stress of trying to maintain position during jostling inside the smooth bag.


Fire shrimp are generally hardy and suitable for many aquariums. Structures should be provided which offer caves and recesses for the shrimp to find refuge and establish a cleaning station territory. This species is often reported to be more reclusive as compared to others from the genus Lysmata. Pairs may be successfully kept together and it is further reported that the fire shrimp becomes more outgoing and visible in this situation. Specific gravity should be maintained near natural seawater level and a cooler temperature may be preferred based on the depths at which this species is found.

As with other captive organisms, new fire shrimp should be slowly acclimated to a quarantine system to allow for the observation of overall health before being introduced to the display aquarium.

Do not be surprised if you do not observe frequent solicitation and acts of cleaning. Captive fishes may experience fewer parasitic infestations as compared to wild ones and it is certainly a luxury to have a nearby resident cleaner that is always available in a safe environment.

As a consequence of growth, shrimps will periodically molt their exoskeleton. During this molting period, for several days or longer, the shrimp should be expected to become completely reclusive and possibly not be seen at all.

Fire shrimps will readily accept a variety of foods. Their ability to detect food placed into the aquarium is keen, and they may temporarily leave their territory to grab items that are available. Though the fire shrimp is an active and thorough scavenger, it should be regularly provided with a variety of target-fed foods. Meaty foods such as frozen fish or shellfish should be given directly to the shrimp at least twice per week. Care must be taken so that fishes are not able to take the food from the shrimp.

There are many reports of fire shrimp spawning in aquariums. Some devoted aquarists have isolated and raised the larvae. Hopefully we can look forward to the future availability of cultured fire shrimp, as has already been done with other species of Lysmata.

The fire shrimp is a beautiful, fascinating and beneficial aquarium inhabitant. Their presence in an aquarium brings a unique feature of wild coral reef ecology to the captive environment.