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Tiger Pistol Shrimp (Alpheus bellulus)


Tiger Pistol Shrimp (Alpheus bellulus) with watchman goby (Cryptocentrus cinctus)

The tiger pistol shrimp (Alpheus bellulus) is a small marine shrimp that is most notable for its symbiotic relationship with certain goby species, such as the watchman goby (Cryptocentrus cinctus), orange spot goby (Amblyeleotris guttata), and the Yasa Hashe goby (Stonogobiops yashia). The photo above shows a tiger pistol shrimp with a watchman goby at its side.

There are many Alpheus species shrimps that have a symbiotic relationship with other goby species. Gobies that have a relationship with shrimp species are commonly referred to as "shrimp gobies."

You should never purchase a shrimp goby without its corresponding shrimp. Likewise, don't purchase a tiger pistol shrimp without also purchasing its goby.

How the symbiotic relationship works between the tiger pistol shrimp and the watchman goby is that they live together in a burrow excavated by the shrimp. The shrimp doesn't have very good eyesight and so the goby watches out for predators for both of them. When a potential predator comes near, the goby warns the shrimp by using a particular tail movement and they both hide in the burrow created by the shrimp. The shrimp and goby also typically share food as well as living quarters.

If the shrimp and goby leave the burrow they remain in close contact with one another.

To see this symbiotic relationship in action watch the You Tube video below.

As you can see from the video, the tiger pistol shrimp is an industrious little animal that spends a good portion of its time excavating the burrow while the goby stands guard near the burrow entrance. At some point, a potential predator must come near because both the shrimp and goby enter the burrow for a few moments.

Another interesting thing about the tiger pistol shrimp (and all pistol shrimp species) is the way they capture prey. In their natural habitat pistol shrimps feed on smaller shrimp species, such as the scarlet skunk cleaner shrimp.

Pistol shrimps have two types of claws - one claw that serves as a typical pincher and one enlarged claw that they use to generate an underwater shockwave to stun smaller shrimps. They do this by snapping their large claw shut. Once the smaller shrimp is stunned, the pistol shrimp can easily capture it.

To see how the pistol shrimp finds its dinner in the wild watch the You Tube video below to see a pistol shrimp capturing a scarlet skunk cleaner shrimp.

Nature certainly is interesting.

Pistol shrimps are very shy animals in the aquarium, but you should still use caution when keeping them in the same tank with smaller shrimp species. Except for their predatory behavior toward small shrimps they won't harm other reef inhabitants. Occasionally they will use the shockwave created by snapping their claw shut to stun, or even kill, very small fish, but usually they leave fish alone.

Tiger pistol shrimps belong to the family Alpheidae. There are over 600 shrimp species in this family and they all have the characteristic "pistol claw." Due to their family name they are commonly referred to as alpheid shrimps.

If you plan on keeping a tiger pistol shrimp in your aquarium you should make sure that you provide it with a goby species that it has a symbiotic relationship with, otherwise your shrimp will fail to thrive in your tank. Tiger pistol shrimps that aren't paired with an appropriate goby species spend most of their time hiding and aren't happy animals. We should never bring animals into captivity unless we are able to provide them with a life that is similar to, or at least close to as good, as what they have in their natural habitat.

You also need to make sure that you use very fine substrate, such as sand or very fine coral rubble, so that your tiger pistol shrimp is able to excavate a burrow. Make sure to also provide lots of live rock for caves.

It isn't necessary to feed your pistol shrimp live prey. In general, they are easy to feed in captivity. They are scavengers and will help to clean up uneaten food in your tank. They need a meaty diet of chopped up seafood (e.g., shrimp, marine fish flesh, squid), frozen aquarium fare for marine fish, sinking pellets (they are bottom feeders), vitamin-enriched brine shrimp, and mysis shrimp.

Tiger pistol shrimp generally sell for about $18 each. Of course you'll also need to purchase an appropriate goby species (Cryptocentrus cinctus, or Stonogobiops or Amblyeleotris spp.) for your shrimp. If a shrimp and goby are already paired at the petstore you should purchase them both.

Like all marine shrimp species, they are intolerant of flucutating water changes and so you must be careful when acclimating them to a new aquarium.

These shrimps molt (shed their exoskeleton) in order to grow. Supplementary iodine sometimes helps with this process.

Also remember that all invertebrates are intolerant of copper in their tanks - so don't use any copper based medications in their tank.

Tiger pistol shrimps typically live for several years if cared for properly.