The Incredible Little Saltwater Shrimp Goby

by Kevin Kohen on March 13, 2010

Flabelligobius Goby and ShrimpOne of the best parts of being saltwater aquarist is not only enjoying the spectacularly colored animals, but also having the unique opportunity to observe and learn about some of the fascinating behaviors of marine fishes.  Smaller, nano-style aquariums are more affordable, and also provide a perfect platform for some smaller species of fish and invertebrates. Oftentimes these smaller species can get lost or overlooked in larger displays.  Fishes such as small Gobies, Blennies, Dartfish, and Basslets, just to name a few, are ideal choices for fish in these smaller set-ups.

Some marine gobies called Shrimp Gobies form a relationship with a small shrimp called a “Snapping Shrimp.”  This symbiotic relationship is one of the most intriguing and fascinating things to watch in the home aquarium.  These small shrimp gobies can bond with several Snapping Shrimp species of the genus Alpheus. The shrimp obtained the common name “Snapping Shrimp” for their unique ability to make an audible clicking or snapping noise.  They use their modified claw by locking the movable finger into place and then forcing the finger against the abductor (larger portion of the claw), which in turn propels a jet of water out of a small groove on their claw and produces the audible loud snap.  This jet of water is so powerful that it can actually stun predatory fishes so the shrimp can safely retreat, and is also used to stun prey, making hunting for food much easier.

The Snapping Shrimp will naturally construct a burrow in gravel or any course sandy substrate and utilize this borrow for protection from predation.  The shrimp will share its burrow with a single or pair of Shrimp Gobies – this relationship is mutually beneficial to both species.  For the shrimp, the gobies act like watchdogs with their keen eyesight, and guard the entrance of Flabelligobius Gobies with Shrimpthe burrow. The gobies rarely venture too far away, scooping up food as it passes by in the water column.  For the goby, having the ability to retreat quickly from predators into a well-constructed borrow where someone else did all the hard work of digging is ideal!  Both animals communicate to each other by touch.  As the shrimp ventures out of the burrow to rearrange the entrance, or forage for food, it will keep one of its feelers or antennae in contact with the goby at all times.  When the goby senses or observes a potential threat, it will wiggle its body and flick its tail to warn the shrimp that danger approaches.  Several body wiggles and rapid flicks of the tail means “retreat now!” and the shrimp will immediately dive back into the safety of the burrow.  If a predator moves even closer, the gobies will rapidly dive into the burrow behind the shrimp.

For a look at this fascinating behavior, please view the video below of a pair of Magnificent Shrimp Gobies (Flabelligobius sp. 1) with their buddy the Red Banded Snapping Shrimp (Alpheus randalli):

You can find pairs like this at LiveAquaria.com’s Fish Section of the Diver’s Den! Visit the Diver’s Den today here.

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About the author: Kevin earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Wright State University, and is an avid marine life photographer, lifelong aquarist, and marine fish enthusiast. He has worked in the aquarium industry since 1983. He launched the LiveAquaria.com web site in 2000 and designed and oversaw the installation of the Drs. Foster and Smith Aquaculture Coral and Marine Life Facility, which opened in July of 2005. Kevin is currently the Director of LiveAquaria at Drs. Foster and Smith. See more articles by Kevin Kohen.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Barb March 15, 2010 at 4:40 pm

Wow, that video is fascinating – thanks for posting it here!

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