Coral Banded Shrimp – Detailed Guide: Care, Diet, and Breeding

Coral Banded Shrimp (Stenopus hispidus)

Coral banded shrimp (Stenopus hispidus), commonly known as “Cleaner shrimp”, “Boxer shrimp”, “Barber pole shrimp”, and “Clown shrimp”, is one of the most popular decapods in the marine aquarium trade due to its bright coloration and hardiness.

Coral banded shrimp is a reef-associated cleaner shrimp with a worldwide distribution. It is known to remove and consume ectoparasites, injured or dead tissues, and excess food particles from fishes and thus play a vital role in the aquarium ecosystem. They are pretty easy to care for even for beginners.

If you want to learn something new about Coral banded shrimp you will find it in this detailed guide. Different facts, results of scientific studies and experience of aquarists will help you to care better for this species.

Quick Notes about Coral Banded Shrimp

Name Coral banded shrimp
Other Names
Cleaner shrimp, Boxer shrimp, Barber pole shrimp, Candy Cane Shrimp, Banded Prawns or Clown shrimp
Scientific Name Stenopus hispidus
Tank size (minimal) 20 gallons (~90 liters)
Keeping Easy-Medium
Breeding Difficult 
Size 5 – 7 cm (~2 – 3 inches)
Optimal Temperature 22 – 27°C  (~72°F – 80°F)
Water type SG = 1.023 – 1.025
Optimal PH 8.0 – 8.4 (7.5 – 9)
Optimal KH 8 – 12
Nitrate Less than 20 ppm
Diet Omnivore
Temperament Aggressive (Territorial)
Life span up to 5 years
Color Form Bright red bars banding its white body

Natural Habitat of the Coral Banded Shrimp

Coral banded shrimp occur in the Indo-Pacific region, Red Sea and Western Atlantic Ocean, where stocks are heavily collected to satisfy the marine ornamental trade demand.

This species inhabits rocky or coralline areas from a depth of a few centimeters to at least 30 meters. As adults, they are found in crevices or overhangs in reefs and are thought to move over an extremely limited area (less than 1 m2), with males exhibiting territorial behavior within this area.

Description of the Coral Banded Shrimp

They are known for their vibrant red and white stripes as well as their bands on their pincer claws. Coral banded shrimp are characterized by very long white antennae and antennules, by bright red bars banding its white body, and by enlarged, chelated, third pereiopods.

In captivity, these shrimp usually range between 5 – 7 cm (2 – 3 inches). However, there are also reports that they can grow up to 9 cm (4 inches).

Color Variations of the Coral Banded Shrimp

Within the genus Stenopus, there are 11 species. Although they are all very similar, some of them have slight color variations. For example:

  • Blue (or Purple) Banded Coral Shrimp (Stenopus tenuirostiris).
  • Golden Banded Coral Shrimp (Stenopus scutellatus).
  • Yellow Banded Coral Shrimp (Stenopus zanzibaricus).

It is quite interesting but in all color variation, the pincer arms and the abdomen usually remain red and white striped.

The lifespan of the Coral Banded Shrimp

Coral banded shrimp generally live between 2 to 5 years in the proper conditions. They are good in most tanks and easy to care for, making them ideal for aquarists who are looking for something to live up to 5 years.

The Behavior of the Coral Banded Shrimp

They prefer the dark corners of a cave or ledges, so it is important to have places for them to hide in the tank. When being in an aquarium, they do the best when they have somewhere to hide during the day.

Interesting fact: Although Coral banded shrimp are nocturnal creatures, they can also change their habits. For example, according to the study, they can also easily physiologically and/or behaviorally adapt to daylight to function as a diurnal cleaner shrimp.

In the natural environment, adults of Coral banded shrimp are typically found in mating pairs at coral reefs.

They can form these pairs as juveniles and grow up together.

Note: In some other guides about Stenopus hispidus you can read that they form pairs for a lifetime. Well, this is not true. Biologists noticed that the males and females form stable pairs for a long period, remaining together for at least two consecutive reproductive cycles, during which males follow and protect their female mates.

Interesting experiment: Environment plays a huge role in their relationship. A pair that had been mixed for more than 2 weeks was observed to fight when moved to an unfamiliar aquarium. This was the only instance of fighting ever observed between an established pair.

They tend to be quite territorial. The couples inhabit a restricted area and exhibit strong aggressive behavior. Coral Banded Shrimp can be very aggressive against others of their own kind. They are quite defensive when something comes within 1 – 2 meters of their area, especially if it is another Coral Banded Shrimp of the same sex. In this case, they usually fight to the death.

Interesting fact: Among shrimp in aquaria there appeared to be no submissive or appeasement behavior. Stranger shrimp of the opposite sex tend to show initial fighting, followed by courtship and the formation of a breeding pair.

Sexing Coral Banded Shrimp

There are different criteria for sex recognition in Coral banded shrimp. Unfortunately, some of them are very hard to see with your bare eyes. Nonetheless, I will list them all here.

  1. The size. The males are smaller than females.
  2. The saddle and the eggs. At all times of the year, most females carry a large mass of green eggs attached to the ventral side of the abdomen or a saddle.
  3. The pleopods of the female, when folded close to the body, extend anteriorly to the base of the second pereiopods. In males, they extend only to the base of the fourth pereiopods.
  4. A single, short, median spine is found on the ventral surface of each abdominal segment of the male. These spines do not occur in females, except those less than 3 cm in length.

Coral Banded Shrimp and Molting

Molting is necessary for any type of shrimp to grow. You can read more about it in my article “Aquarium: Molting Process and Metabolism of the Dwarf Shrimp”.

According to the researches, these are some facts about Coral banded shrimp molting:

  1. They grow rapidly during the first 30 weeks, gradually slowing, and essentially stopping after approximately 50 weeks (~1 year).
  2. Molt intervals are positively related to shrimp
  3. Molt interval increase and growth increments declined as shrimp body size increased.
  4. In general, the inter-molt duration is about 22 – 26 days (for adults).
  5. There is no significant difference in the inter-molt intervals between males and females.
  6. The mortality of Coral banded shrimp is size specific. Large shrimp have higher survival rates than smaller individuals. For example, the probability of survival increases by approximately 6% per 1 mm increase in body size.

Feeding Coral Banded Shrimp

Coral banded shrimp are omnivores, meaning they can eat anything. They will eat meat (pieces of fish, shrimp, squids, shellfish, etc.), flakes, pellets – it really does not matter.

Try to give them a variety of food ranging from flake food as well as frozen or live food. That way they will get all the necessary microelements.

Feed them at least three times a week and you should be fine.

Do not let them be hungry. Otherwise, the level of aggression in the tank will skyrocket and they will go after fish, snails, and other shrimp.

Tip: Remove the leftover food the next day to prevent contamination.

Note: Some Aquarists direct feed them. Actually, you do not have to do that unless there is a high level of competition for the food in your tank and there is a risk for them to become hungry.

Coral Banded Shrimp and Clean Stations

In the wild, like many other cleaner shrimp, Coral banded shrimp relies heavily on their clients for food.

To do this, they perform a dancing behavior – shrimp stand in a conspicuous spot on the reef and whips its antenna while swaying side to side. People usually call these areas as cleaning stations.

However, many aquarists complain that they have never seen Coral banded shrimp clean fishes. Why?

Unfortunately, the explanation is quite simple. We have conflicts of interest here:

  • To make them clean the fish they must be very hungry.
  • You do not want them to be hungry in your tank!

Coral Banded Shrimp and Bristle Worms

If you have a problem with Bristle worms (Polychaete) in your reef tank, these shrimp will help you. Actually, this is one of the main reasons why they became so popular.

Coral banded shrimp are great at keeping bristle worms under control. Once you have these shrimp, you will never see the worms again.

Are Coral Banded Shrimp Reef Safe?

In general, Coral banded shrimp are reef safe. But … there are also reports that they can nip at soft coral or anemones when they are hungry.
In addition, keep in mind that these species have their own personalities. Thus, it is not possible to predict their behavior. While some of them will often live peacefully in reef tanks for years. Others will pinch at corals and anemones all the time.
Just be careful and keep an eye on the Coral banded shrimp when you introduce them into the tank.

Note: In some cases, Coral banded shrimp can accidentally damage the coral (as they clean them) and then eat the damaged one.

Basic Tank Equipment (links to check the price on Amazon)

Keeping and Caring for Coral Banded Shrimp

Coral banded shrimp are hardy animals that are often the first invertebrate for many beginning aquarists. It is recommended to have at least a 20-gallon tank when planning to purchase them. They are too big for the smaller tanks.

Preferably, the aquaria should have beach sand as a substrate and some rock for shelter.

They can live only in marine aquariums and require the following water conditions. Temperature should be between 24 – 27C (72 – 80F), SG = 1.024-1.026. Coral banded shrimp prefer pH 8.0 – 8.4 and KH 8 – 9.

Do not forget to acclimatize them before putting them into the tank. If you do not take the care to do that, you run a higher risk of your shrimp dying in the tank because of shock.

Read my article “How I Drip Acclimate Shrimp and Why”.

 Mating Coral Banded Shrimp

Mating usually occurs within 12 – 48 hours of a female molt, after which, the females release pheromones to attract the male.

Interesting fact: The females are more attractive to the males within the first 24 h after molting and all matings at 12 h and 24 h after molting were successful. At 36 h after molting, only one out of four pairs mated successfully.

When Coral banded shrimp are ready to mate, the male shrimp will perform a courting dance in front of the female. The process of the courtship and mating was described in detail by biologists and looks like this.

  1. After antennule contact, the female stands with the abdomen raised.
  2. The male rapidly embraces the female abdomen to abdomen.
  3. Then the male turns 150-180° to mate.
  4. The male does not bend around the body of the female.

The copulation lasts for only 5 to 10 seconds. Next, the male will transfer a sperm sack to the female.

After successful mating, the female of Coral banded shrimp starts spawning in 15 – 25 minutes. The spawning usually lasts for about 10 minutes.

Breeding Coral Banded Shrimp

There have been many attempts over the years to develop technologies for breeding Stenopus hispidus species, but with little success.

They are very difficult to breed in an aquarium because their larvae either get eaten by the other aquarium creatures, get sucked up into the filter system, simply die without proper nutrition or water parameters.

However, in my research about this species, I found some facts about their breeding that might help somebody in the future.

Facts about Coral banded shrimp breeding

Females reach sexual maturity at 30 mm (~1.2 inches). They can produce from several hundred to over 2000 eggs during each spawn.  Clutch size increases approximately exponentially with increasing female size from that point.

There are 4 stages of ovarian development, which we can see by the naked eye.

  1. Spent ovary: Translucent coloration. This stage lasts for 3 days after egg spawning.
  2. Developing ovary: Milky-white coloration. This lasts for 10 days after spawning.
  3. Developed ovary: Light green coloration. Between 10 and 18 days after spawning.
  4. Advanced ovary: Dark green coloration.

After spawning, as the larvae develop, the eggs in the egg mass progress from heavily pigmented towards transparency. The color of the egg mass gradually change and the eyespots appear 4 to 5 days later before hatch.

Larvae typically hatch within 16 days of fertilization at 28C. Within 12 hours after the eggs hatch, the shrimp can molt, mate and then spawn again.

The babies do not leave the mother immediately. Instead, they stay with their mother attached to her for some time. Once detached, they will float to the surface of the water.

Newly hatched Coral banded larvae go through 9 larval stages before transforming into tiny copies of their parents. Unfortunately, they have a long larval duration (at least 123 days) and has shown the ability to delay metamorphosis up to as many as 210 days, until suitable nutritional or environmental conditions are encountered.

The baby Coral banded shrimp will then settle on the bottom of the ocean and find a dark place to hide.

Coral Banded Shrimp and Suitable Tank mates

Coral Banded Shrimp and Fish

We can often read in different guides and care sheets about shrimp that you need to avoid any predatory fish that are big enough to eat them (Triggers, larger Hawkfish, Groupers, Lionfish, and large predatory Wrasses).

Although I tend to agree with that, I would also like to show you another side of the coin.

Long time ago (1960), scientists observed the behavior of the adult Stenopus hispidus. To their surprise, they concluded that these shrimp did not seem to have any natural predators.

The symbiosis between Coral banded shrimp and the reef community was so deep that it allowed the shrimp safely check the mouth and gills of a fish without being eaten.

According to another experiment, biologists placed Coral banded shrimp in a tank with an octopus species which readily eats non-cleaner shrimp, crabs, and lobsters. The octopus did not eat shrimp until it went without food for a few weeks!

In another experiment, 2 Coral banded shrimp were placed in front of the fish (behind the glass).

Biologists wanted to test the dancing behavior, observed in cleaner shrimp, as a signal to let fish know that their cleaning station is open and they are ready to clean (feed).

One of them was starved while the other was feed. The starved Coral banded shrimp “danced” twice as frequent as the feed shrimp. As a result, the fish tried 11 times more time to engage with the shrimp!

Coral Banded Shrimp and Other Shrimp

It is not recommended that you pair a Coral banded shrimp with any other shrimp of its kind because they can be aggressive against other Coral banded shrimp. Both in the wild and in captivity, these crustaceans are very territorial creatures, especially against another Coral banded shrimp.

Basically, it is the same as with any other variant of the Coral banded shrimp. Although they belong to different genus they will still fight each other.

Regarding other shrimp species like Red Fire shrimp (Lysmata debelius), Peppermint shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni), Skunk Cleaner (Lysmata amboinensis), etc. I would not recommend putting them together.

Sure, some people manage to keep Coral banded shrimp with other shrimp species. However, it does not mean that it will work for you. After all, I will repeat it once again, they can still be pretty aggressive.

 Coral Banded Shrimp, Snails and Hermit crabs

Because snails and hermit crabs are slow-moving creatures, the risk of predation increases. Therefore, do not keep Coral banded shrimp, snails and Hermit crabs together.

 Conclusion

Coral banded shrimp are beautiful and eye-catching in color as well as being very easy to take care for. It makes them an ideal creature for many aquarists.

They are nocturnal, so it is important to have places in your aquarium where they can hide. Along with this, it is not recommended to pair them with other Coral banded shrimp because they do better on their own due to their aggression.

References:

1.      The little shrimp that could: phylogeography of the circumtropical Stenopus hispidus (Crustacea: Decapoda), reveals divergent Atlantic and Pacific lineages. PeerJ. 2018.

2.      Becker, Justine H.A., Curtis, Lynda M., Grutter, Alexandra S. 2005. Cleaner Shrimp Use a Rocking Dance to Advertise Cleaning Service to Clients. Current Biology, 15: 760-764.

3.      Limbaugh, Conrad, Pederson, Harry, Chace, Fenner A. 1961. Shrimps that clean fishes. Bull. Mar. Sci. Gulf & Carib. 11: 237-257.

4.      Randell, J.E. and V. E. Brock. 1960. Observations on the ecology of epinepheline and lutjanid fishes of the Society Islands, with emphasis on food habits. Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc., 89: 9-16.

5.      Reproductive cycle and ovarian development of the marine ornamental shrimp Stenopus hispidus in captivity. Aquaculture. Volume 306, Issues 1–4, 15 August 2010, Pages 185-190.

6.      Behavior Associated with Pair Formation in the Banded Shrimp Stenopus hispidus (Olivier). Authors: Johnson, Victor R Jr. Date Issued: Jan 1969.

7.      Effects of Body Size on Growth, Survivorship, and Reproduction in the Banded Coral Shrimp, Stenopus Hispidus . Journal of Crustacean Biology, Volume 23, Issue 4, 1 December 2003, Pages 836–848.

8.      Hawksbill turtles visit moustached barbers: cleaning symbiosis between eretmochelys imbricata and the shrimp stenopus hispidus. Article in Biota Neotropica. December 2003

9.      Mating Behavior and Spawning of the Banded Coral Shrimp Stenopus hispidus in the Laboratory. Dong Zhang, Junda Lin and R. LeRoy Creswell. Journal of Crustacean Biology. Vol. 18, No. 3 (Aug., 1998), pp. 511-518

10.  Studies on lipid content and composition in banded coral shrimp (Stenopus hispidus) embryos. Published 2015.

11.  Effect of Light Intensity and Wavelength on Diurnal Activity of the Banded Coral Shrimp Stenopus hispidus (Decapoda, Stenopodidae): A Possible Adaptation for a Cleaner Shrimp in Reef Environments 1. Article in Pacific Science 70(2):191-200. April 2016

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