for well over a decade, these Elacatinus
species seldom live longer than two years
in the aquarium.
The Cleaner Shrimps
Shifting from fish to crustaceans, we
come to the cleaner shrimps. Two Indo-Pacific cleaner species in particular come to
mind here as being not only very attractive
and fascinating but also fairly hardy, reef
safe, and easy to feed: the white-banded
cleaner shrimp Lysmata amboinensis (a.k.a.
the skunk shrimp) and the blood shrimp
(a.k.a. the fire shrimp or scarlet cleaner
shrimp) Lysmata debelius.
Both of these species are a delight to
observe as they scramble over the rockwork
in search of food or cling upside-down to
the ceiling of an especially desirable cave.
There’s little challenge to feeding these
species, as they will gladly accept just about
anything offered to fish—even flake food.
From my experience, L. debelius, which
is collected from deeper waters, fetches a
much higher price than its white-banded
cousin for specimens of similar size.
L. amboinensis has a yellow base color
with a snow-white stripe flanked by scarlet
bands running the length of its back. And,
as I mentioned earlier, it has absurdly long
white antennae that it uses to advertise its
status as a cleaner. L. debelius is blood-red
overall with white polka dots, white legs
(creating the comical impression that the
shrimp is wearing white knee socks), and
the same overlong white antennae that
adorn L. amboinensis.
Like the Elacatinus gobies described
above, these shrimps will clean their fish
tankmates in search of edible parasites and
dead tissue, as well as perform underwater
manicures on hobbyists who aren’t put
off by the prospect of a ten-legged critter
clinging to their fingers and picking at
Another beautiful cleaner shrimp, the
banded coral shrimp (or coral-banded
shrimp, depending on who you’re talking
to) Stenopus hispidus, is commonly
available in the hobby and makes a great
addition to the peaceful community tank
or reef system. This circumtropical species’
coloration is white with red bands, giving
it the appearance of a ten-legged barber
pole. It too has extremely long, white
antennae but is also endowed with rather
formidable-looking claws (relative to the
other two species I’ve discussed, anyway).
Like L. amboinensis and L. debelius,
S. hispidus will quickly learn to accept
most aquarium fare and may clean its fish
tankmates in captivity. Anecdotally, however,
I can’t personally attest to this, as the
specimens that I’ve kept have not exhibited
cleaning behavior in the aquarium.
Now Let’s Eat!
Before closing this month’s column, I
should emphasize that even though
predatory species will override their
natural instincts when seeking the services
of cleaners in the wild, it should not
be considered safe to force big predators
and bite-sized cleaners to share the same
aquarium. When they’re not in need of
cleaning, predators may view cleaners as
just another meal opportunity.
Always stock with the assumption
that if one fish can fit another fish (or
crustacean) in its mouth, the smaller of
the two will likely end up there at some
point in the future.