Harlequin Shrimp – Care, Tank Mates, Feeding & Full Details!

Harlequin Shrimp, also referred to as Clown Shrimp or Painted Shrimp, are a carnivorous species with a peculiar diet – starfish. They possess a remarkable ability to ingest toxins released by their prey, and some experts believe these toxins are absorbed and used for self-defense.

These captivating shrimp are scattered throughout the warm waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Reef divers frequently spot them off the coasts of east Africa, Australia, Hawaii, Indonesia, Panama, and the Galapagos Islands.

These creatures prefer to inhabit crevices and caves, which provide them with safety between their hunting forays.

In their natural habitat, Harlequin Shrimp rarely venture more than 100 feet from the surface.

They establish clearly defined territories and are known for their complex social relationships, particularly between mated pairs who bond for life, hunting and warding off predators together.

Over the years, Harlequin Shrimp, known scientifically as Hymenocera picta, have become increasingly popular in the world of aquaria due to their striking appearance and intriguing behavior.

As you read through this comprehensive guide, you’ll understand why these shrimps captivate so many.

Quick Stats About Harlequin Shrimp

Aquarium Size  10+ gallons
Water Temperature  72-82°F (22.2-27.8°C)
pH 8.0-8.4
Carbonate Hardness (KH)  8-12
Salinity  1.023-1.025
Safe Water Levels Ammonia: 0 ppm Nitrites: 0 ppm Nitrates: <20 ppm
Decorations  CavesRocks Corals Plastic vegetation/other decorations
Tank Mates Do best in pairs of the opposite sexSmall, reef-safe and shrimp-safe fishSmall, reef-safe and shrimp-safe inverts
Diet  Starfish Sea urchins (occasionally)

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At the heart of aquatic elegance and exoticism resides the Harlequin Shrimp, a spectacle that adds a certain flair to any aquarium.

Avid aquarists will find our detailed and comprehensive guide a treasure trove of information about these stunning creatures.

Harlequin Shrimp Appearance

Among all crustacean species, Harlequin Shrimp indisputably stand out, boasting a striking appearance that commands attention.

Their bodies are adorned with a mix of cream-colored patches and vibrant spots, ranging from a deep brownish-orange to a bright, electrifying pink.

Each spot is bordered with vivid blue edges, contributing to the shrimp’s ostentatious display.

Their bodies, while maintaining the general shape characteristic of most shrimp species, are uniquely different.

One notable feature is their eyes and claws, which are distinctly flatter compared to their kin.

However, the peculiarity of Harlequin Shrimp extends beyond their body structure.

Sprouting near their eyes, they sport two leaf-shaped antennules. These sensory organs serve as their olfactory devices, allowing them to detect and locate their preferred prey: starfish.

Generally, male Harlequin Shrimp are considered more agile hunters, effortlessly navigating their surroundings.

Beneath their vibrant bodies are eight pereiopods, legs used for their graceful crawl along coral and rocks. In addition to these, they have ten pleopods, forked limbs for swimming, spread across their abdomen.

While shopping for your tank, you might come across the Blue Harlequin Shrimp. They are similar in shape and size to the common Harlequin Shrimp but exhibit blue spots with yellow outlines.

Despite the ongoing debate among biologists regarding their classification as a separate species or subspecies, their addition to your aquarium promises a captivating aesthetic appeal.

Natural Habitat of Harlequin Shrimp

Harlequin Shrimp are native to the warm, tropical waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. They are unique creatures with an aptitude for survival, adept at adapting to their natural habitat.

In the wild, they are primarily found inhabiting the crevices and caves of coral reefs, providing them the much-needed concealment from potential predators.

They are remarkably adept at utilizing their surroundings, moving between hunting expeditions and shelter with ease.

The preference for shallow waters, generally not exceeding a depth of 100 feet, is another characteristic feature of Harlequin Shrimp.

They establish well-defined territorial boundaries within these limits, maintaining complex social relationships with their kin.

Origin and Distribution

Harlequin Shrimp, scientifically known as Hymenocera picta, are geographically dispersed across the world.

They have been spotted across a broad range of locations, from the coast of East Africa, Australia, and Hawaii to Indonesia, Panama, and the Galapagos Islands.

Their wide geographical distribution is testament to their adaptability, and it adds to their intrigue.

Whether they are referred to as Clown Shrimp or Painted Shrimp, their beauty and unique behaviors have made them popular in aquariums globally.

Growth, Size & Lifespan of Harlequin Shrimp

A Harlequin Shrimp’s size is a critical consideration for any aquarist. Generally, these shrimps can attain a maximum length of 2 inches and weigh merely a few ounces, with females being marginally larger than males.

Despite their small size, their care requirements can significantly influence the cost of maintenance.

In terms of their lifespan, with the right care, optimal aquarium conditions, and a consistent diet, a Harlequin Shrimp can live up to seven years.

They flourish best when their needs are diligently met, displaying their full spectrum of fascinating behaviors and charming aesthetics.

Their care, while intermediate, is certainly rewarding for any dedicated hobbyist. With the right guidance and consistent efforts, you’ll have a vibrant and lively tank showcasing these colorful wonders.

Harlequin Shrimp Behavior and Temperament

The behavior and temperament of Harlequin Shrimp are as captivating as their vibrant hues. Harlequin Shrimp, by nature, are a peaceful and non-aggressive species, preferring to keep to themselves within the confines of their tank.

They are fond of navigating their space, delicately moving across the substrate and occasionally flexing their antennules.

One of the most unique behaviors of the Harlequin Shrimp is their pair bonding. It’s common to find them living in monogamous pairs, with both partners cooperating in hunting, feeding, and guarding their territory.

This display of cooperation, coupled with their intricate mating rituals, provides an entrancing spectacle for all marine life enthusiasts.

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Tank Setup For Harlequin Shrimp

Setting up a perfect environment for your Harlequin Shrimp is key to ensuring their happiness, health, and longevity.

Let’s dive deeper into the specifics that you need to consider while setting up their tank.

Tank Size

Given their modest size, a tank of around 10 gallons is usually sufficient for a pair of Harlequin Shrimp.

However, if you plan to house them with other species or additional pairs, you may need a larger tank, with an additional 10 gallons per pair being a good guideline.


A fine sand or crushed coral substrate is most suitable for Harlequin Shrimp. They enjoy digging and navigating through these materials, and the texture of these substrates can also contribute to the overall aesthetics of your tank.

Decorations and Hiding Spots

Given their natural habitat in the coral reefs, providing plenty of hiding spots is essential for the wellbeing of your Harlequin Shrimp.

You can use live rock, driftwood, or artificial cave structures to create these hiding spots. These not only serve as a safe haven for your shrimp but also add to the visual appeal of your aquarium.

Water Parameters

Harlequin Shrimp thrive in water that replicates their natural habitat. Keep the temperature between 72-82°F, and maintain the pH level between 8.1 and 8.4.

The specific gravity should be kept between 1.023 and 1.025, with the ammonia and nitrite levels as close to zero as possible.

Filtration and Aeration

As with any aquarium setup, a robust filtration system is a must for maintaining a healthy environment. Both mechanical and biological filtration systems are suitable.

Additionally, aeration is crucial to maintain the oxygen levels, so ensure you have a reliable air pump.


These shrimp do not require any special lighting conditions, and standard aquarium lighting should suffice. They are more active during lower light conditions, so having a period of dimmed lights can be beneficial.

Tank Mates

Harlequin Shrimp are non-aggressive and can cohabitate peacefully with most peaceful, reef-compatible species. Avoid housing them with predatory or larger aggressive species, as they might stress or harm the shrimp.


Feeding is a unique aspect of Harlequin Shrimp care. They are specialized feeders who primarily eat starfish, so you must provide them with a consistent supply of their preferred food.

The presence of starfish in their diet also contributes to the bright colors they are known for.

In conclusion, while the tank setup for Harlequin Shrimp can be quite detailed, the results are worth it. Not only do these stunning creatures add color and movement to your tank, but their unique behaviors also provide endless fascination for those fortunate enough to observe them.

Tank Maintenance of Harlequin Shrimp

Ensuring your Harlequin Shrimp’s tank remains in top condition is crucial for their health and longevity. Regular maintenance helps keep the environment clean and the water parameters within the desired range.

Let’s delve into the specifics of maintaining your Harlequin Shrimp’s tank, focusing on regular water changes, cleaning the tank and decorations, filter maintenance, and monitoring the shrimp’s health.

Regular Water Changes

Just like in nature, water in a tank needs refreshing. Regular water changes, about 25% every two weeks, help maintain the right water conditions for your Harlequin Shrimp.

This keeps the nitrate levels low and helps mimic the water conditions of their natural habitats. Make sure the new water matches the old one in temperature and salinity to avoid stressing the shrimp.

Cleaning the Tank and Decorations

Keeping the tank and its decorations clean is another key part of tank maintenance. Every few weeks, gently clean the interior walls of the tank to prevent any unwanted algae or bacterial growth. Be careful not to disrupt the shrimp or their hiding spots.

For decorations, a gentle brush can help remove any build-up without damaging the decoration. Remember, any cleaning agents used should be shrimp-safe, and thoroughly rinse off any residue before returning the decorations to the tank.

Filter Maintenance

Filters work hard to keep the water clean and healthy, but over time, they can become clogged or less effective. Regular maintenance every 4-6 weeks, depending on the filter type and manufacturer’s guidelines, will help ensure that it keeps working at its best.

It’s also essential to replace filter media, such as activated carbon or sponge, as per the manufacturer’s recommendations. Always remember to handle this process carefully to avoid any sudden changes in the tank’s biological balance.

Monitor Shrimp Health

Finally, keeping a close eye on your Harlequin Shrimp’s health is vital. Regularly observe your shrimp for any changes in color, behavior, or eating habits, as these can be early signs of health issues.

Remember, healthy shrimp will be active, vibrantly colored, and eager to feed. If you notice any deviation from this, it’s important to seek advice from a marine biology expert or a vet with experience in aquatic life.

In conclusion, while tank maintenance for Harlequin Shrimp might seem like a daunting task, it’s an essential part of ensuring your shrimp thrive.

By creating a clean and stable environment for your Harlequin Shrimp, you’ll be rewarded with their vibrant colors and fascinating behavior for years to come.

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Acclimating Harlequin Shrimp

Acclimating your Harlequin Shrimp to their new tank is crucial to their wellbeing. Like many marine animals, Harlequin Shrimp can be sensitive to changes in water conditions.

By introducing them slowly and gently to their new environment, you’ll increase their chances of a healthy and happy life in your care.

The process of acclimation usually takes about one to two hours. When you first receive your shrimp, float the bag containing them in the tank to equalize the temperatures.

After about 15 minutes, start adding a small amount of your tank water into the bag. Repeat this process every 10 minutes until the bag is mostly filled with your tank water.

Now, your shrimp are ready to be gently released into the tank. Monitor them closely to ensure they are adapting well.

Harlequin Shrimp Diet and Feeding

Harlequin Shrimp have a unique and specialized diet, primarily consisting of starfish.

While this may present some challenges, understanding and meeting their dietary needs is essential to their health and survival.

Starfish: The Main Course

These fascinating shrimp are best known for their preference for starfish. They are capable of consuming both large and small species, including the Asterias and Linkia types.

While they can manage larger starfish, it’s often easier and less risky to provide them with smaller species.

Portion Control

In a week, a pair of Harlequin Shrimp can consume about one small starfish.

Therefore, it’s important to carefully manage their feeding to ensure they’re receiving enough food but not overfeeding them, as any uneaten food can decay and impact the tank’s water quality.

Feeding Process

Harlequin Shrimp feed in an intriguing way. They immobilize and flip the starfish onto its back, accessing the soft, vulnerable underside.

This unique feeding behavior is fascinating to observe, but it also means they require a stable environment with enough space to feed effectively.

Sourcing Starfish

Since Harlequin Shrimp’s diet consists primarily of starfish, it’s important to have a reliable source. Some aquarists choose to cultivate their own starfish for this purpose, but they can also be purchased from many marine pet supply stores.

In conclusion, feeding Harlequin Shrimp requires a bit more preparation and effort than other marine species, but the reward is a healthy, vibrant, and active shrimp.

Their specialized diet and unique feeding behavior make them one of the most intriguing creatures you can keep in a marine aquarium.

Harmonious Harlequin Shrimp Tank Mates

In choosing tank mates for your Harlequin Shrimp, it’s crucial to consider their peaceable nature and particular dietary needs.

Let’s dive into a list of compatible companions for these unique marine creatures.

Five-Friendly Fish Companions

  1. Clownfish: Known for their peaceful nature and vibrant colors, Clownfish make a great match for Harlequin Shrimp.

  2. Dwarf Angelfish: Small, non-aggressive angelfish like the Flame Angelfish or Coral Beauty can coexist well with Harlequin Shrimp.

  3. Gobies: Small and peaceful, gobies like the Neon Goby or Yellow Watchman Goby make great companions.

  4. Cardinalfish: Slow-moving and nocturnal, cardinalfish such as the Banggai Cardinalfish or Pajama Cardinalfish, will not trouble your shrimp.

  5. Firefish: Their peaceful demeanor and smaller size make Firefish a suitable companion.

Tank Mates to Avoid

  1. Triggerfish: These aggressive eaters may see your Harlequin Shrimp as a meal.

  2. Larger Wrasses: Some large wrasses are known to snack on invertebrates, making them a poor choice.

  3. Pufferfish: Given their tendency to nip at invertebrates, pufferfish are to be avoided.

  4. Lionfish: Their predatory nature makes them a danger to your shrimp.

  5. Large Dottybacks: Known to be aggressive and territorial, they are not shrimp-friendly.

Breeding Harlequin Shrimp

Breeding Harlequin Shrimp is an exciting, albeit challenging, venture.

Here’s a comprehensive guide to the process.

Courtship and Mating

Male Harlequin Shrimp often initiate the courtship ritual with a “dance.” After successful mating, the female carries the fertilized eggs under her abdomen until they’re ready to hatch.

Egg Care

During this period, the female shrimp tends to her eggs meticulously, constantly fanning them to ensure a sufficient oxygen supply. This stage lasts about 15-18 days.

Hatching and Fry Care

Once hatched, the larvae will be in their planktonic stage and will float in the water. They’re highly vulnerable at this stage.

You can optimize their survival rates by doing the following:

  1. Dedicated Breeding Tank: Set up a dedicated tank for the larvae, separate from the main tank.

  2. Proper Lighting: Maintain dim or indirect lighting to mimic their natural habitat.

  3. Planktonic Food Source: Supply a steady diet of phytoplankton or rotifers to provide the necessary nutrition.

  4. Minimal Water Current: High water current can be harmful to the larvae, so keep the water flow to a minimum.

  5. Monitoring: Regularly monitor water parameters to ensure optimal conditions for the developing shrimp.

Breeding Harlequin Shrimp is a commitment, but seeing the tiny, transparent larvae grow into beautifully patterned adults is an immensely rewarding experience.

Their vibrant presence will continue to add intrigue and color to your marine tank for generations to come.

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Recognizing Signs of Stress

Even in the best-maintained tanks, Harlequin Shrimp can sometimes exhibit signs of stress. It’s vital to understand these signs to ensure the wellbeing of your pet.

Abnormal Coloration

If your shrimp starts to lose its vibrant colors, it could be a sign of stress. This might be due to unfavorable water conditions or a poor diet.

Reduced Activity

These shrimps are typically active and curious. If you notice a sudden decrease in activity or movement, it may indicate stress.

Reduced Appetite

If your Harlequin Shrimp isn’t eating as usual, it may be stressed. Check for any changes in the environment that might be causing this behavior.

Harlequin Shrimp Health Issues: Prevention and Treatment

Harlequin Shrimp, like other marine species, can face several common health issues.

Let’s delve into these problems and their solutions.

Shell Disease

A sign of shell disease is a darkening or eroding exoskeleton. This can be caused by bacteria. Regular water changes and maintaining proper water parameters can prevent this. If noticed, isolate the shrimp and consult with a marine life expert for the best course of action.

White Spot Disease

White spot disease is characterized by small white spots on the shrimp’s body. This disease is caused by parasites and is highly contagious. Prompt isolation and medication are vital for recovery.

Fungal Infections

If you notice fluffy patches on your shrimp, it might be a fungal infection. Treatment usually involves the use of antifungal medication and maintaining excellent water quality.

Additional Tips for a Healthy Aquarium

Beyond the essentials, here are some extra tips to ensure your aquarium remains a safe and healthy environment for your Harlequin Shrimp:

  1. Regular Testing: Regularly test the water parameters to ensure they’re within a suitable range for your shrimp.

  2. Avoid Overfeeding: Overfeeding can lead to poor water quality. Feed only the amount your shrimp can consume.

  3. Observation: Regularly observe your shrimp for any changes in behavior or appearance.

Should You Get a Harlequin Shrimp for Your Aquarium?

Harlequin Shrimp are beautiful, fascinating creatures that can bring a burst of color and character to your tank. However, their specific dietary needs and sensitive nature make them suitable for hobbyists with some experience in maintaining marine tanks.

If you’re ready to provide a steady diet of starfish, can maintain stable water parameters, and enjoy watching unique behaviors, then a Harlequin Shrimp might be the perfect addition to your marine community.

Just remember, these aren’t just pets; they’re commitments to protect and preserve a slice of our planet’s stunning biodiversity.

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Harlequin Shrimp Conservation Status

The Harlequin Shrimp is not currently listed as endangered or threatened. However, their numbers in the wild have been impacted by the pet trade and destruction of their natural habitats.

Ensuring that you buy from reputable breeders who prioritize sustainable practices can help maintain their wild populations.

Availability & Pricing

Harlequin Shrimp are available at most marine pet stores and online. Their prices can vary, typically ranging from $30 to $50, depending on their size and coloration.

Frequently Asked Questions About Harlequin Shrimp

1. Can Harlequin Shrimp live alone?

Yes, but they are known for their monogamous nature. They pair for life and are often seen working together, especially when hunting.

2. How often should I feed my Harlequin Shrimp?

They should be fed every 2-3 days, depending on their size and how quickly they consume their food.

3. Can Harlequin Shrimp live in a freshwater tank?

No, Harlequin Shrimp are saltwater creatures. They cannot survive in a freshwater environment.

In Conclusion: Is the Harlequin Shrimp Right for You?

The Harlequin Shrimp is an intriguing creature that can bring a unique aesthetic to any marine aquarium. Its vibrant colors and fascinating behaviors make it a joy to observe.

However, owning a Harlequin Shrimp requires commitment and proper care. You need to provide a healthy diet, maintain the correct water parameters, and ensure a stress-free environment.

If you’re up to the task, the Harlequin Shrimp can become an invaluable part of your marine aquarium, enriching your marine hobbyist journey with its unparalleled charm and charisma.