Harlequin Shrimp: Care, Breeding, Diet & Behavior

Harlequin shrimp known by its scientific name as Hymenocera picta found majorly in coral reefs in the Pacific and India ocean. It is the only species from genus Hymenocera. It is usually peaceful in nature and comes from the family of Gnathophyllidae. It is also known by other names such as painted shrimp and clown shrimp. Usually they are peaceful but territorial.

Harlequin Shrimp Overview

Harlequin Shrimp Overview

Family: Palaemonidae
Origin: Coral reefs in the tropical Indian and Pacific Oceans
Temperament: Territorial towards other shrimps only
Size: Up to 2 inches
Minimum Tank Size: 10 Gallons
Diet: Carnivores
Care: Intermediate
pH: 8.0 to 8.4
Alkalinity Levels: 8 – 12 dkH
Temperature: 82 to 89 F (28 to 32 C)

Frankly speaking I don’t like shrimps; however, this shrimp is amazing in terms of its looks. Usually, they are white in color with colored spots on it which makes it to look good than other shrimps. Female shrimps are little longer than male ones usually at around 2 inches in length.

Adding this shrimp to your aquarium has many benefits like

  • Since they look good, they provide aesthetic look in the aquarium.
  • If you love hunting, then you definitely need to watch this shrimp hunting
  • To prevent starfish infestation


As we had already informed above that one of the benefits of having Harlequin shrimp in your aquarium is preventing starfish infestation. Which means its main diet is, yes you guessed it right, starfish. They usually hunt slow moving starfish. This shrimp uses its skills to overturn the starfish and starts eating the starfish’s soft tissues and eats until it reaches the center of the starfish.

Sometimes it eats sea urchins as well.

If you have kept any decorative starfish in your aquarium, then definitely you shouldn’t have Harlequin shrimp in your aquarium.

Supplements like Magnesium, Iodine and calcium can be given.


Harlequin shrimp are mostly found in the India and west Pacific Ocean. However, there is a difference is color of the shrimp and the color depends on where the shrimp came from. For e.g. the shrimp which you get from Indian ocean has a brownish spot with blue edge and the shrimp from Pacific Ocean has a purplish spot with yellow edge.

Usually these shrimps are found as a pair in their natural habitat. These shrimps form a breeding pair and doesn’t move from each other. This pairing helps them in mating as well as during hunting especially starfishes.

Another thing to consider is, these shrimps are sensitive to temperature. So, depending on the temperature, salinity of the water, the color might change. Also ensure that this shrimp is highly sensitive to high levels of nitrate and copper.

In the wild, this shrimp is usually found at a depth of around 30m and hides in holes, coral reefs which has cave like structure.

Having harlequin shrimp in your aquarium will be expensive as they feed mostly on starfish and starfishes are little expensive. The cheap option would be to have chocolate chip starfish which costs around $10 per starfish. If your local store doesn’t have starfish or if you don’t find the starfish online as well, then we would suggest you to stay away from the harlequin shrimp as they might starve without starfishes.

Another way to feed this shrimp is to have many starfishes in a separate tank. Since starfish is known for re-growing their arms, you will have to cut the starfish’s arm and feed it to the shrimp which is in another fish tank. The next day repeat the process with another starfish and keep rotating this process and hence you require more starfishes to rotate. The main disadvantages of this method is well you have to cut the arm of a live starfish every day and the other disadvantage is you need a separate tank for shrimp and starfishes and this will take up more space. Another disadvantage is you need many starfishes.

So, if you find starfishes for sale, better buy them in bulk.

Also, it doesn’t matter if the size of the star fish is little big. The reason being this shrimp is good at hunting starfishes which are bigger than the shrimp itself. They use their first pair of legs to pierce the starfish’s skin. Few families of starfish like Asterina, Acanthaster and Mithrodia are major source of diet for this shrimp. However, this shrimp eats almost all kinds of starfishes.

Another interesting thing about hunting is, this shrimp doesn’t hunt a nonmoving static starfish at all. It hunts only the moving starfishes.

Tank Requirements

The minimal tank size required for this shrimp would be a 10 gallon tank. Harlequin shrimps are shy in nature. They like to hide always between rocks. So, if you are placing this shrimp inside the aquarium, ensure that your aquarium has place for the shrimp to hide. You can place some medium sized pebbles and create a kind of cave for these shrimps to hide. This shrimp drags the food into the cave and safely eat inside the cave.

The water temperature required for this shrimp is between 22°C to 28°C (72 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit). As we had already discussed, this shrimp is very sensitive to water salinity and temperature. Please ensure that both water salinity and temperature needs to be proper. Ensure there are no high-level concentration of copper and nitrate in the water.

Also, if you are creating a cave like structure for the shrimp, then please ensure that the cave is away from any water pump or filters as this shrimp doesn’t like high water currents. Please ensure that pump or filter you purchase doesn’t harm your aquatic animals.

If you are keeping this shrimp inside a big reef tank, then we would suggest you to use a gyre pump.

Since this shrimp is very sensitive, we would suggest you to put them in a Nano tank so that they are more secured and even provide aesthetic look.

The pH level required for this shrimp is around 8.1 to 8.4

Nitrate required: Should be less than 20ppm

It can live up to 7 years if proper care is taken.

Like all other shrimps, Harlequin shrimp also shed their skins when they grow. The reason for this is the outer shell doesn’t grow along with the shrimp and they have to shed their outer shell. After shedding, the new shell will be soft and starts to become hard after some time. In fact, the shed skeleton exactly looks like another shrimp.

Usually the fully-grown shrimp sheds every 20-30 days. During shedding/molting they require calcium supplements. Since 30 to 50% of the outer shell is made of calcium carbonate, providing calcium supplements during shedding definitely helps the shrimp. Shrimp absorbs calcium from water via their gills. Another important thing is along with calcium you will need magnesium supplement. The reason for magnesium is that magnesium helps in calcium absorption by keeping calcium in dissolved state and the calcium to magnesium ratio should be between 3:1.

During this shredding time, the shrimp is more vulnerable and hence it spends some time hiding in the cave until new shell hardens. You can also place few marine ornaments which are large enough to keep the shrimps inside them. Shrimps are good at hiding in remote place and Harlequin shrimp is no different. When you place them inside the tank for the first time, they usually find a remote place for hiding. They start to move once they are little comfortable with the surroundings.

If you need to perform some changes to the water in the aquarium, it is advised to do it slowly as there are chances of harming the shrimp.

This shrimp doesn’t eat the whole starfish, it eats only the arms of the starfish. The center disk of the starfish is left uneaten. So, care should be taken to remove the dead center disk or it will start rotting inside the aquarium.

Harlequin shrimp Tank Mates

Harlequin shrimp is compatible with other small fishes and crabs as well. But some crabs like the Sally Lightfoot crab might eat the shrimps. Hence never take the risk of placing the carbs along with shrimp. Due to the nature of shrimps being territorial, it is better not to have any other shrimps along with this shrimp. This shrimp doesn’t have too many natural attackers out in the wild.

Usually larger fish don’t attack this shrimp, however since this shrimp being small and is naturally afraid of bigger fishes and always hides. It is also good not to mix this shrimp with few shrimp eating fishes like hawkfish and dwarf lionfish. It is not advisable to keep this shrimp with more aggressive fishes like Puffer fish, Damsels etc.

As already discussed, if you have starfish, never put this shrimp with starfish as starfish is their main diet.

Apart from a single or a pair of Harlequin shrimps never keep other shrimps or even other Harlequin shrimps together as they tend to fight and it is found that males fight till their death. Once the shrimps start moving inside the tank and when they become more comfortable, they treat the surroundings as their own territory.


Harlequin shrimps always love to live in pairs, hunt and eat the food together. The female shrimps are little larger and longer than its male counterpart. Females have their abdominal plates colored and this is another difference between male and female.  The female Harlequin shrimp produces around 100 to 5000 eggs in a season. The amount of eggs produced depend on various environmental factors.

It is also found that raising this shrimp from early larval stage inside the aquarium is difficult as the success rate is very low.


What do harlequin shrimp eat?

They eat mostly starfishes.

Tank size required for harlequin shrimp?

Minimum tank size would be 10 gallons.

What is the size of harlequin shrimp?

Usually the fully-grown shrimp will have a size of around 2 inches.

Will harlequin shrimp eat frozen starfish?

Yes, it eats frozen starfish, but care should be taken as the frozen starfish inside the tank tend to rot earlier.

How many harlequin shrimps per tank?

It is advised to have a mating pair of shrimps per tank, as the shrimps are territorial

Will harlequin shrimp eat urchins?

Its main diet is starfish, however if there are no starfish available then it eats sea urchins.

How often you should feed the harlequin shrimps?

You can feed starfish every 1 week. Or else you can buy Chocolate Chip starfish and cut its leg and feed every week. Keep the rest in the freezer.

What is the harlequin shrimp lifespan?

It can live upto 7 years if proper care is taken.

What is the price of harlequin shrimp?

It depends on the size. The small ones sells for around $55. The medium for $60 and the larger one is sold for around $70.


Due to the gorgeous look of Harlequin shrimp with its bright spots and colored border, keeping it in your aquarium will definitely bring that  aesthetic look in your aquarium, however this comes at the cost of maintaining it as they are sensitive to salinity of water, temperature and since they feed mostly on starfish you have to source the starfishes somehow and as discussed you might need separate tanks of shrimp and starfish. Considering the cost of each starfish, keeping Harlequin shrimp is for people with big pockets.