Pistol Shrimp Care Guide: Diet, Size, Punch & Power

Popular! It was the sound of Pistol Shrimp chasing his next prey. These little creatures are capable of very loud noises known to be louder than most gunshots. This and other interesting facts are shared in this care guide designed to let you know more about this amazing shrimp.

Species Summary

Pistol shrimp are evolutionary wonders that inhabit tropical and temperate coastal waters around the world. These small invertebrates are part of the Family Alpheidae, which includes hundreds of species. Their namesake trait is the specialized claw that acts like a pressurized water gun, allowing these well-adapted carnivores to stun their prey during their hunts.

These crustaceans live in coral reefs, oyster reefs and seagrass beds. Shrimp are burrowers that spend most of their time hiding when they are not roaming the ground in search of food. Although most species share the same behaviors and characteristics, verify the identity of your shrimp with your seller. Some species are more territorial and aggressive than others, making them poor cohabitants with other crustaceans and fish. This behavior is similar to that of the harlequin shrimp since it is also territorial and aggressive towards other species of shrimp, including same-sex harlequins.

Appearance

The common trait of all pistol shrimp is two claws of varying sizes, a claw and a snapper. The claw resembles the claws of other shrimp. The snapper is about half the length of the gun body. It has two parts, the propus, which fills with water, and the dactyl, which works like a piston by moving through the propus. The resulting pressure expels an explosion, creating an air bubble and a popping sound.

Author’s note: The left or right claw can develop like the snapper. Interestingly, the claw can transform into a snapper if the shrimp loses its specialized appendage during an attack or accident.

These shrimp feature antennae, two black eyes at the top of their head, and six legs along the underside of their abdomen. Their coloring depends on the species, but most shrimp are red, brown, blue, green, white or a mixture of colors and sometimes show striking patterns.

Lifetime

Pistol Shrimp has a lifespan of about four years. They are relatively affordable reef fish and are a solid choice for beginner aquarists as they are easy to feed and only require standard care.

Midsized

You would think that this shrimp is quite big considering its power but the average size of a pistol shrimp is only 1-2 inches long. Males are noticeably larger than females and have a more prominent claw.

Pistol Shrimp Care

Pistol shrimp maintenance is quite simple as they are safe and diligent borrowers of reefs, making them a valuable addition as they will turn over the substrate, helping to circulate oxygen in the tank. Unless they are threatened or deprived of adequate space in the substrate, they do not pose a threat to other fish.

tank size

If you get a pistol shrimp make sure the tank size is 30 gallons or larger as they require at least 4 inches of substrate. These crustaceans are active borrowers, adapted to tunneling in the wild for safety. Although sand is acceptable, crushed coral is preferred as it is easier for shrimp to dig horizontally through the rougher material.

Author’s note: If you plan to keep more than one gun, a larger tank is needed to ensure each shrimp has enough room to burrow. They are very territorial with members of the same species.

Water parameters

  • Water temperature: 75°F to 82°F
  • pH levels: 6.5 to 7.5
  • Water hardness: 8 to 12 dKH
  • Specific gravity: 1.024 to 1.026 sg

What to put in their tank

The shrimp will spend much of its time below the tank floor, so hiding places and vegetation are unnecessary. Make sure the tank has adequate loose rock and coral pieces for the shrimp to use for construction. Shrimp will use these small materials to fortify the intricate tunnels they create.

Also, make sure your large rock and coral beds are well stabilized. Pistol Shrimp creates extensive webs that could compromise your rock’s foundation if it sits on too much sand or crushed coral. A potential collapse could damage your coral or crush your gun.

Common possible illnesses

Although these shrimp are not particularly susceptible to disease, they are very sensitive to copper. Refrain from using tank additives and move fish that require copper-containing treatments to a separate tank.

Author’s note: Like their invertebrate counterparts, pistol shrimp are susceptible to nitrate buildup. Be sure to follow a consistent schedule for water changes and to remove rotting fish and other organic matter.

Food and diet

Wild pistol shrimp are carnivorous and active scavengers, they eat fish and decaying plant matter. Their adapted claw shocks and stuns prey. Fortunately, they will accept flakes, pellets and thawed frozen foods when kept in a tank. Usually providing a small piece of fish, brine shrimp, mussel, scallop or squid two or three times a week is sufficient.

Experts recommend placing food at the entrance to their burrow. If she’s hungry, your shrimp will take her underground. Otherwise, they will push it away. Supervision of feedings is essential. Pistols will hunt invertebrates in your tank if not properly fed.

Behavior and temperament

Despite their imposing natural armament, Pistol Shrimp are generally timid and docile. They are nocturnal creatures that stay in their tunnel system unless they need to hunt or forage.

While the specialized claw is a hunting tool, the shrimp also relies on the snapping sound to defend itself against predators. When you hear the characteristic “pop”, it probably means your shrimp feels threatened. Depending on the species of your shrimp, the sound can reach 210 decibels, which is louder than most gunshots.

Author’s note: For reference, if you search online for “gunshot decibels”, you will find that a small .22 caliber rifle can produce around 140 dB, while large caliber rifles and pistols produce over 175 dB.

Pistol Shrimp Tank Mates and Partners

Beyond their unique anatomy, pistol shrimps pair well with gobies (like the mandarin goby) due to their symbiotic relationship. Pistols are essentially blind, which limits their ability to detect predators. Gobies love to hide gaps in the substrate.

These two species form a mutually beneficial relationship. The goby gains access to the complex system of tunnels while the shrimp stays close to the goby, which alerts it to nearby threats. To communicate, the shrimp rests its antennae on the fish, which flaps its fins to signal the shrimp. Additionally, the crustacean sometimes grabs bits of food thrown away when the goby feeds. A gun can also help keep your goby calm as both fish are relatively shy and a goby cannot thrive without adequate hiding places.

Author’s note: Buying the shrimp and goby together and acclimating them to your aquarium in the same isolation bag or tank maximizes the pair’s chances of bonding. When selecting your shrimps and gobies, check that each species is open to the symbiotic relationship.

Pistol shrimp also do well with other small, non-aggressive fish and sponges. Your shrimp will remain on its own as long as its nutritional needs are met and no one invades its territory.

Avoid housing pistol shrimp with groupers, hawkfish, lionfish, puffers, triggers, and mantis shrimp as they can feed on your pistol. Additionally, groundfish, other shrimp, crabs, and snails may trip over the burrow opening, leading to a possible confrontation.

While there are countless species of pistol shrimp, and some can even make it to your tank through live rock or sand purchases, the most popular are sold primarily for their vibrant colors.

  • Tiger Pistol Shrimpknown scientifically as Alpheus bellulus, is the most commonly farmed pistol shrimp. They have white bodies and intricate reddish-brown patterns. Distinct purple markings accentuate their legs. Tiger Pistols pair well with gobies.
  • Randall’s Shrimpor better known as Alphee Randalli, are whitish in color and striped with uneven red rings on the body and claws. They also form bonds with gobies. The Golden Pistol Shrimp, which is not a listed species, is yellow in color with faint stripes along the length of its body and a white ring near the tail of the thorax.
  • The Bullseye Shrimpalso known as Alpheus Soror, has an orange-pink color with distinct black spots on either side of its tail. This species has purple claws. Bullseyes will not associate with gobies.
  • Caribbean Red Pistol ShrimpOr Alpheus sp, is one of the most aggressive species. They have a red body with white accent markings and purplish legs. Rather than bonding with gobies, they forge a similar symbiotic relationship with Curlycue anemones.

Reproduction

Pistol shrimp farming is difficult due to their territoriality towards each other and the relative vulnerability of the larva. They form monogamous bonds and mate repeatedly. Females reproduce after each molting cycle when they are very vulnerable to attack due to their lack of an exoskeleton. The mate protects the female during this phase. In return, the male can mate repeatedly without seeking new females.

Females lay between a few hundred and thousands of eggs, depending on the species. She will carry the legs under her abdomen. The eggs hatch 28 days after fertilization. The larva then completes three moulting periods over the next 78 to 102 hours. They will then reach their shrimp phase and begin foraging for food as they grow, reaching adulthood.

The best way to successfully breed shrimp is to buy two guns together and put them in the tank as a unit. This familiarity maximizes the chances of them associating and sharing tunnels. Securing the largest male possible with a pruning claw will increase the chances of the female being receptive.

Final Thoughts

We think the Pistol Shrimp would be a great addition to your saltwater tank as long as you are willing to give it some privacy due to its territorial behavior.

If you’re ready to move forward with this crustacean or have already done so, let us know how it goes because we love to hear stories from our readers!

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