Ranger Rick Surprising Shrimps April 2015

Surprising Shrimps

By Kathy Kranking

There’s more to shrimps than you might think!

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You probably don’t spend much time thinking about shrimps. But if you did, you might say, “Wow!” That’s because shrimps are amazing little creatures.

Shrimps are related to lobsters and crabs. The kinds in this story live in warm ocean waters. And, like their crusty cousins, each is covered with a shell for protection. Some shrimps also have one or more pairs of claws. They use the claws to fight, to hold on to food, and to dig.

As you can see by looking at this spotted cleaner shrimp (above), shrimps can be as colorful as jewels, decorated with spots, stripes, or splotches. Some of them are even see-through!
But there’s more to shrimps than their showy looks. Shrimps also do interesting things, such as run businesses or make friends.

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Is this shrimp about to become a moray eel’s lunch? Nope, it’s just doing its job. The shrimp is a cleaner shrimp. It and the other shrimps you can see here run a cleaning service. Fish come to them so that the shrimps can pick tiny, pesty creatures off their skin. The shrimps eat up the creatures. They even check inside the fishes’ mouths, cleaning bits of food from between their teeth. So the fish get cleaned, and the shrimps get fed. Everybody wins!

Most shrimps eat different foods, such as algae (AL-jee), plant bits, and tiny animals. But the harlequin (HAR-luh-kwin) shrimp eats just one kind of food: sea stars. A slow-moving sea star is no match for a hungry harlequin. The shrimp (or a pair of them) flips the helpless creature over onto its back. Then it’s sea star for dinner!

The pistol shrimp shares a sandy burrow with a fish called a goby. But the goby is more than just a roommate. It’s also a “seeing-eye fish” for its blind shrimp friend. As the shrimp works to clean out the burrow, the goby keeps watch for predators. The shrimp always keeps one of its feelers on the goby’s tail. If the goby sees danger, it flicks its tail, which warns the shrimp. Then they both duck into the safety of the burrow.

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The mantis shrimp isn’t considered a true shrimp, but it is closely related. This one is a female holding a mass of eggs with her claws. But when she’s not holding eggs, she uses the claws as weapons. Mantis shrimps are famous for their fast “punches.” They can shatter the shells of prey by punching out their claws at speeds of more than 50 miles per hour!

That ghostly looking shrimp next to the harlequin shrimp isn’t a shrimp at all. It’s the harlequin’s molted, or shed, shell. As a shrimp grows, its shell stays the same size. After a while, the shell begins to get tight. Finally, it splits, and the shrimp crawls right out of it. At first the shrimp’s new shell is soft, so the shrimp hides until the shell hardens. Then it’s ready to go, bigger and better.

Even though this shrimp is called a dancing shrimp, you won’t see it hopping around to music. It gets its name from the jerky movements it makes when it walks.


“Surprising Shrimps” originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Ranger Rick magazine.
(Click on each image above for a closer view of the story.)

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