If you are looking for something unique to add to your small reef aquarium other than fishes, and snails then the Bumble Bee Shrimp (Gnathophyllum americanum and Gnathophyllum elegans) can be an interesting choice for you.
Bumble Bee Shrimp are a good choice for many small saltwater aquarium set ups. These interesting little shrimp live up to their micro name. They are also known and sold as Striped Bumble Bee Shrimp (Gnathophyllum americanum) and Spotted Bumble bee shrimp (Gnathophyllum elegans).
Although the ecology of these species is poorly researched, in this article, I will tell you everything I know about Bumble Bee shrimp and how to care for them.
Quick Notes about Bumble Bee Shrimp
|Bumble bee shrimp
|– Striped Bumble Bee Shrimp, The striped harlequin, Zebra shrimp
– Spotted Bumble Bee Shrimp
|Gnathophyllum americanum and Gnathophyllum elegans
|Tank size (minimum)
|10 gallons (~40 liters)
|Difficult (Almost impossible)
|2.5 cm (~1 inch)
|22 – 26°C (~72°F – 79°F)
|SG = 1.023 – 1.025
|8.0 – 8.4
|8 – 12
|Less than 20 ppm
|up to 2 years
|Dark and white stripes or yellow dots all over the body
Origin / Habitat of Bumble Bee Shrimp
Bumble bee shrimp are majorly distributed in the eastern Atlantic. They are also known from Bermuda, India, (Landfall Island, North Andaman), and from the Indo-West Pacific region from the Red Sea to Japan, Australia, and Oceania.
Gnathophyllum species is another group of marine crustaceans that live in the shallow waters of tropical and subtropical seas.
They are often found on rocky and corals reefs as free-living shrimp or in association with echinoids, ophiuroids, sea stars, and sea cucumbers from the intertidal pools.
Description of the Bumble Bee Shrimp
Bumble bee shrimp are a smaller saltwater shrimp species, reaching a maximum size of about 1 inch or 2.5 cm (generally, even a little bit less ¾ inches or 2 cm ) in the aquarium setting.
One of the interesting features is that they look like they do not have a head because their rostrum is so short and directed slightly downwards.
In fully mature adult shrimp, the body is very stout and the abdomen is straight.
The coloration of Bumble bee shrimp depends on the species.
- Gnathophyllum americanum color pattern composed of alternate transverse dark reddish brown and white stripes. Narrow transverse white bands are to be seen all over the carapace and the abdomen (Striped Bumble Bee Shrimp).
- Gnathophyllum elegans – the adults are characterized by small yellow-orange spots (composed by smaller spots grouped together) scattered all over the body, with no specific arrangement (Spotted Bumble bee shrimp).
Interesting fact: In Bumble bee shrimp, the color pattern of the body is also different between early juvenile phases and adults. As juveniles, they can have lots of stripes, blotches and dots during development. However, stripes or dots (depending on the species) start fading away in late juveniles.
There is no official data on how long Gnathophyllum species can live in the wild.
Though in captivity it is believed that Bumblee bee shrimp can reach ages of up to 2 – 3 years old and good care.
The Behavior of the Bumble Bee Shrimp
Until Bumble bee shrimp get used to the daily life of your aquarium, they are actually very shy and ‘easier’ to find at night when the lights go out. Throughout the day many like to sit under rocks or hide away from their tank mates.
This lifestyle is probably due to their small size, and the fact that many predators could take advantage of them.
In nature, Bumble bee shrimp are typically found in pairs where males display a ritual dance by covering and shepherding the female with his claws. However, unlike their closest relative Harlequin shrimp (Hymenocera picta), they do not show completely monogamous behavior.
Although Bumble bee shrimp are quite peaceful, they do not like the presence of their own kind in the tank. Despite their small size, they are territorial. Luckily, their territories are not big and they usually do not fight to the death.
Feeding the Bumble Bee Shrimp
The most challenging aspect of caring for Bumble bee shrimp is associated with the feeding regime.
These shrimp are carnivorous marine invertebrates. They do not eat algae at all.
In the wild, they prefer to feed on sea stars, to be precise, they eat the tube feet of echinoderms. Therefore, Bumble bee shrimp should not be kept with most starfish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, and sand dollars or they should be well-fed to reduce the risk of aggression.
Note: There are some reports mentioning consumption of other echinoderms even without tube feet. However, these observations were usually recorded on the starved specimens with no access to sea stars.
The good thing though is that they do not require sea stars for survival. If sea stars are not present in the tank they will not starve to death (like Harlequin shrimp). Bumble bee shrimp will eat any frozen meaty foods (such as brine or mysis shrimp, cockle, or small pieces of fish or shrimp, etc.) you feed them!
Unfortunately, these shrimp are also very bad at finding food. In addition, it is recommended to feed them every day.
Asterina Starfish and Bumble Bee Shrimp
There is a popular misconception on the Internet that Bumble bee shrimp can control or/and eliminate the Asterina starfish.
- Asterina starfish do not have tube feet.
- Bumble bee shrimp should be really hungry for that.
- In general, they are not good hunters.
So, if you need to eliminate Asterina starfish for the tank – do not count on them, you need Harlequin shrimp.
Note: There are many species of Asterina starfish. Some of them are coral safe. While others can destroy your reef tank. The problem is that it is very difficult to tell which species of Asterina you have. Another problem is that they multiply like rabbits. Therefore, if you see only one Asterina starfish there are probably many others hiding somewhere.
Associations of Bumble Bee Shrimp
According to the studies, these shrimp are known to be associated with coelenterates, echinoderms, and the echinoid (Echinometra lucunter), where they presumably found shelter although there are no certainties about possible commensalism in Gnathophyllum species.
Are the Bumble Bee Shrimp Reef Safe?
Yes, in most cases you will not have any problems with the Bumble Bee Shrimp in reef tanks. They will not harm corals in any way.
I know only one case when these shrimp picked on Crocea clams. Just do not let them starve.
Caring and Keeping the Bumble Bee Shrimp
Keeping the Bumble bee shrimp in an aquarium is not complicated because they do not have special water quality requirements. Basically, these little shrimp should be maintained under conditions that suitable for any other typical reef-aquarium inhabitants.
Because of their small size, there are no minimum requirements. Even a 10 gallon (40 liters) tank will be good enough for a few Bumble bee shrimp.
Of course, having a larger tank is way better for the stability of water chemistry. The only problem is that these little guys may get lost in large tanks, so you will see them once a month maybe.
Water type, Temperature, Hardness, and pH:
Temperature: The ideal water temperature for keeping the Bumble bee shrimp is between the range of 72 – 79 °C (22 – 26 °C).
pH: Maintain optimal pH values 8.1 – 8.4 for the shrimp to thrive in your saltwater aquarium.
Hardness: Keep water hardness values between 8 – 12 dKH
Calcium: The concentration of calcium, the PH, and the alkalinity of the aquarium’s water must be maintained at acceptable levels as well. Keeping calcium concentration in the range of 400 to 450 ppm is optimal, but it can be a bit lower or higher.
Bumble bee shrimp do not really need light. Therefore, lighting should be adapted to the needs of your corals and fish in the tank.
These shrimp are not diggers and do not have any preference for the substrate.
In nature, the Bumble bee shrimp are found free-living and on a wide array of substrates (hard natural, hard anthropogenic, and amidst algae), suggesting that their body color pattern is not particularly related to any habitat type.
Tank décor should include plenty of structures for the Bumble bee shrimp to hide.
If the conditions are met, this shrimp will delight you with its funny behavior and make periodic adventures to the front glass.
Do not forget that they need careful acclimation (read more about it here) as all invertebrates. Do it very slowly. In general 2 – 3 hours will be good enough. Bumble bee do not like swings in salinity.
Basic Tank Equipment (links to check the price on Amazon)
Reproduction of Bumble Bee Shrimp
There are no reports of Bumble bee shrimp breeding in captivity.
Despite a possible interest for the exploitation of these species in the marine aquarium industry and trade as ornamental shrimps, little is known on larval, postlarval, and juvenile stages of some species.
I have found that females become mature when their carapace is around 2.3 – 4.4 mm (a bit less than 3/16 inch).
The larval development of this genus is poorly documented. So far, only the first stage zoea in Gnathophyllum americanum is described by scientists.
Bumble Bee Shrimp and Suitable Tankmates
Bumblee bee shrimp will not mess with any of the other tank mates. They usually come out right before the lights to find some food. The ideal situation for the Bumble bee shrimp is a species tank, but it can be kept with other fish as long as those species are chosen with care.
These shrimp are pretty small and prone to being eaten by a number of carnivorous fish species. Large predators such as triggerfishes, wrasses, hawkfishes, and angelfishes do not make suitable tankmates.
Aggressive eaters should be avoided as well. Avoid Large and/ or aggressive invertebrates like Coral banded shrimp, Arrow crabs, etc. Basically, anything that might decide these shrimp can be a good snack.
Potentially good tankmates:
- Boxer crabs, Emerald crabs, Porcelain anemone crabs, cleaner shrimp (Peppermint shrimp, Red Fire shrimp, Skunk Cleaner Shrimp, Red-white Cleaner Shrimp), Saron Shrimp, Sexy shrimp usually do not bother Bumble bee shrimp.
The global aquarium industry is growing every year and the demand for some kind of unusual and interesting animal species is increasing as well.
Nonetheless, you should only acquire Bumble bee shrimp if you are willing to give it special care and attention since it cannot thrive on other food items neither can it survive in a tank full of aggressive tankmates.
Ignoring these caveats means you are bound to lose these little guys earlier than expected, and the death of a dear pet is something everyone dreads.