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Harlequin Shrimp - Facts On The Stunning Harlequin Shrimp

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Harlequin Shrimp


Harlequin Shrimp Facts

Scientific Name : Hymenocera Elegans, Hymenocera Picta
Origin : Indo-Pacific, Hawaii
Difficulty : Fairly Tough (Diet Related)
Minimum Size Tank : 10 Gallons
Temperament : Peaceful, Shy
Temperature : 72 - 82°F
Reef Safe : Yes
Maximum Size : 3 inches
Diet : Starfishes Only

The Harlequin Shrimp is my personal favorite. Having had a pair for a number of years, i can safely say that there isn't a more stunning marine Aquarium Shrimp in the marine aquarium hobby. They are all white with patches of purple, blue or orange-red.

The shape of the harlequin shrimp is what makes it so distinctive. It looks more like flower of some sort than a shrimp. Heavily collected throughout the Indo-Pacific, Hawaii versions are a lot more uncommon as well as expensive. They are a relatively shy shrimp, preferring to hang out in caves and dark spots. They also tend to be site attached, meaning they are usually found in their lair of choice.

Harlequin Shrimp Dance

There are two known species of harlequin shrimp, hymenocera picta and hymenocera elegans. They differ only in where they are found. H.picta hails from Hawaii while H.elegans is found throughout the Indo-Pacific. Also, i've found that H.picta tends to have a lot more purple-orange than H.elegans. The H.elegans i see always seem to be blue-purple with occasional specimens which are orange.

There is debate as to the real differences between them as they look and behave entirely alike. Some learned marine biologists think there are both one and the same having migrated to or from the Indo-Pacific. It is a slow moving shrimp which was shocking to me initially as i expected agility similar to fire shrimp or cleaner shrimp. They are best described as underwater rhinos with their slow gait. But at the first sign of a meal, they spring into action. More on that below.

Harlequin Shrimp And Starfish

Chocolate Chip Starfish


Harlequin Shrimp Diet

The appearance of the harlequin shrimp isn't the only aspect that sets them apart from other shrimp. They have a truly unique diet as in they only feed on starfish. There have been reported instances where they have been seen preying on sea urchins as well but that is rare. Considering their unique dietary needs, feeding harlequin shrimps can be expensive. A single chocolate chip starfish will last my mated pair about a week at most.

Once these shrimp see a starfish they spring into action rushing towards. They then attempt to flip it over. Finally they drag the starfish back to their lair for feeding. During the feeding process, the harlequin shrimp will attempt to keep the starfish alive as it slowly feeds on its feet bit by bit. I recommend chocolate chip starfish over other types of starfish mainly because they are tough and take a while to finally perish. The blue linkia starfish tend to die all too quickly for my liking.

The feeding process can be messy as bits of starfish may be lying around slowly rotting and fouling up the tank water. Also, you need to keep an eye on the starfish. If it dies prematurely it can cause a real mess especially for smaller nano aquariums. Others have a different method of feeding them. They cut of the arms and store them in a freezer for future feeding. Or they cut off a single arm and let the starfish regenerate. This cycle is repeated over and over again.

Breeding Books

Harlequin Shrimp Pair


Harlequin Shrimp Breeding

Breeding of the harlequin shrimp has been achieved only by a handful of dedicated enthusiasts. One particular successful breeding came from the country of Japan. The hobbyist concerned managed to raise the larvae all the way up to adulthood using newly hatched brine shrimp and copepods.

However, they doesn't seem to be much effort put into breeding them at the moment. Those that do, don't normally get past the larval rearing stages. Telling a male from a female is fairly easy. Males are smaller and if you look at its bottom of its abdomen, you will notice that the plates are all white. Females have plates that are colored. I recommend buying two similar size shrimps for breeding as a large female may kill a smaller male. I lost 3 small males before i wised up and got one just as big as the female.

Once the pair has been established and they have a constant food supply, they will breed for you every month. Breeding takes place only after they molt so the rate at which they breed can be dependent on how often they molt.



DoveFreexrolo on April 24, 2016:

rest of the site is also really good.

Muckdiver on April 25, 2013:

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It is a sad industry. More animals are caught and die than make it to your aquariums. The result is this is just another example of human kind doing its level best to destroy our oceans. Aquarists ignore the damage they do because they only just buy the critter at their local store and don't experience what really happens when they animal is removed from the sea. Guess what, the Eco system changes and all manner of repercussions occur. Don't kid yourself you wreak damage just as the collectors do.

I could go on and on. I am not a supporter of this sport and felt someone should post something in the midst of all this comraderie.

The harlequin shrimp is a rare and amazing creature. Your demand for them only worsens their plight and puts them on similar paths that so many animals have followed to your aquariums - becoming even more rare and endangered. I doubt this will change your mind but hopefully you will be more mindful of the effect you are creating.

Guntert on January 11, 2013:

I have had my Harlequin for several months and started another tank just to raise chocolate chip starfish for it to eat. I'm watching it tonight and noticed some green spots or something on its front claws. Any idea what it could be?

PirateFX (author) on April 27, 2012:

@FayeQ - Yep, it probably became food for other organisms in the tank. You will need to figure out how to collect the babies once they hatch as pumps/skimmers/etc will end up killing them. For further information on how to raise them, please visit

fayeQ on April 12, 2012:

I have a breeding pair of harleys, Ying and Yang (aka The YingYang Twins), that have recently started carrying eggs for the first time, but upon release, they dissapeared. I'm assuming they became food for the other tankmates. My question is: is it necessary to have them in their own tank to successfully hatch offspring? I find the possibility of my pink brittle star making a nice snack out of the hatchlings slightly humorous in an ironic way. Score one for the strafish! Lol ;)

steph on March 05, 2012:

Has this animal recently been discovered because I have got to do a review on a newly discovered sea creature any help????

josh on November 08, 2011:

i was wondering if i could use micro brittle stars to feed them

stew on September 28, 2011:

It's a female, the colours on it are brilliant, unfortunately i have been away with work since putting it in more a less so i haven't been able to watch it as closely as i'd like to see if it's eating the brittles or not. As for adding another, as much as i like it im a bit over stocked already and having to watch my nitrate levels and read the harley makes it worse so am just watching and seeing how much it does alter it if any, plus thinking as long as it contains them and they don't get to big then i can keep him longer, because i think i would have to get rid if her food supply run out. Like us all, i need a bigger tank to add all i want, and then a safe area for fish that i can't have because they would wipe out my corals.

Thanks for the advice and help.

PirateFX (author) on September 27, 2011:

Hi Stew. I've heard some species of wrasse will clean them out. The two i've heard that can be effective are the six line and the radiant wrasse. But don't take my word for it. The fact that the Harlequin is feeding on them is something to be celebrated though. It means you don't have to buy starfish for them! Which is something i had to do constantly when i had my pair.

How about pairing your current Harley with another one? Double the consumption and you get to have some of the coolest shrimp on the planet without maintenance! If you're interested, you first have to determine the gender of your harley. You have to look at its abdomen area for any blue markings. The blue markings are faint and are covered by the "swimmerets" on the abdomen. But once they flutter, you'll be able to see them clearly.

If you see blue markings, its a female. Its difficult to see, but an easy way about this is putting it in a plastic cup and looking at it from the bottom.

stew on September 26, 2011:

It's definitely eating the little white stars that were multiplying in my tank, you can see it playing with them, i haven't seen it with a baby brittle yet but it's settled down right in the middle of there nest so to speak so they must be tempting for it.

Have you any other suggestions of how to get rid of the little green bittle stars, there hiding inside the rocks and there's loads of them, when i first got the new coral and noticed them i rinsed and rinsed the coral/rock with melafix and got rid of some but plenty remained, too small yet to get by hand and so quick back into the rock.

PirateFX (author) on September 25, 2011:

Hi Stew - That's great news. Can you confirm its feasting on them? Thanks.

Stew on September 23, 2011:

I went and got a large harlequin shrimp, what a creature, i placed it where the bulk of the little brittle stars are and it's made that it's home so hopefully it will be feasting on them soon, so far i have just seen it eating the little white star fish i had multiplying in my tank. I diidn't expect to see it anywhere near as much as i have, i had read it would take a while to settle but it has settled straight away, great addition to my tank.

PirateFX (author) on September 17, 2011:

Hi Stew - They should be fine with cleaner shrimps. Buti'm not sure on their effectiveness on controlling baby brittle stars.

Stew on September 17, 2011:

I bought some coral a while back and it came crawling with baby green brittle stars, obviously to small to do any harm yet, but I had a problem with a rogue black brittle star that had got so big it started to pick my fish off, I couldn't believe it as there mean't to be fine but I was witnessing it with my own eyes more than once unfortunately and had a real struggle catching it. I was wondering if a harlequin shrimp would help me get rid of the green brittle stars and would they be fine with my cleaner and fire shrimps?

PirateFX (author) on July 01, 2011:

@James - Dude, sorry to hear bout your troubles man. I dunno how long they live though. But if i had to guess, five years is definitely doable. No predators + consistent feeding should do the trick.

James on June 30, 2011:

Man,I need to check my spelling Lol

James on June 30, 2011:

Hey man , it's been while sense I have been on the site. So I'm taking a break from salt water aquriaums, after losing my apartmentand moving from one to oanther I really couldn't afford it, Plus my brother's girlfriend's mother was not very good choice to watch my tank, I try not to think about but anyway lesson learn!but yes , My question is How long do these badass shrimp live for ? I read an thread about them living over 5 years .I'm hoping they do !!! cause that would be great ,but Still unsure if that fails

LUCY on October 28, 2010:



PirateFX (author) on October 20, 2010:

Hi Robin,

I've only read of reports of Harlequins feeding on asterinas, but i don't have experience with that scenario. Let us know how it works out, would be nice for someone to confirm that they do indeed eat asterinas.

Robin on October 20, 2010:

I just purchased a Harlequin shrimp to help with an Asterina star infestation. I have many many Bristle stars that are all over it. I know that I will find out soon if they are going to eat it or not but in the meantime what do you think?

PirateFX (author) on July 14, 2010:

Hey Mac, the way to tell the sexes apart is by looking at their abdomen from the bottom up. Females have some color on their abdomens while males are plain white. Catch them, put them in a clear container and look up from the bottom.

mac on July 14, 2010:

Hey man I got a pair of the harlequins and so far so good they hang and eat together but I don't think there male and female I think there both males.. why aren't they fighting or how could I be exact if there both males??

James on February 26, 2010:

Hey I'm thinking in getting a shrimp and goby pair, just wondering if a tiger pistol shrimp will attack and eat my fire shrimp? also read on that the tiger pistol shrimp is peaceful. What's your expernce with them with other shrimp? And I'm also saving money in getting a 30 gallon tank. I'm soo limited in my 10 gallonLOL

James on February 23, 2010:

yeah I heard about the sea applesdid a lot of reading them and others just like it their really nice but very riskie. so you thimk the yellow ones would be a problem in tank, the reason I wanted this one well because their pretty small ( 2 Inch) and my plan on doing mushroom coral is going to take a while do to the fact that my lights did not came in to my LFS store and the fact that i'm a college student who needs a second job LOL plus i'm thinking doing a filter feeder tank like feather dusters for now and till I get the money for the lights :] so yeah that's it


PirateFX (author) on February 22, 2010:

Cukes are toxic when they die. Some are more toxic than others. They also require a large amount of live sand to sustain themselves and are generally a bad idea for smaller aquariums. There are some species offered on the market that do not sift through sand. Like sea apples, they feed on planktonic life from the water. These guys are tough to keep without ample micro foods in the aquarium.

James on February 22, 2010:

for the help again, I'm thinking in getting yellow sea Cucumber for my nano do you think this small type of cucumber would cause any problems in my tank? I heard some sea cucumber are toxics.

PirateFX (author) on February 22, 2010:

Lighting for a refugium really just depends on your budget. Ideally, you'd want it to have just enough light to enable your macroalgae to thrive in, which is easily solved with just about any conventional bulb type. The problem lies in the spectrum of light the bulb emits. 6500k daylight bulbs are a good choice.

James on February 21, 2010:

Alright thanks, hey what kind of light should I use for the refugium; I'm getting a T-5 double bulds for the 10 Gallon do you think I need to use some lighting system as the tank or a smaller system ?

PirateFX (author) on February 21, 2010:

Sorry to hear bout your Harley James. As for the refugium, the bigger the better :)

James on February 19, 2010:

I meant not the 3 gallon at the end of my comment, sorry about :}

James on February 19, 2010:

Hey I'm thinking in doing a refugium for my tank. I want to know if I could use 5g tank or smaller like a 3g. should I do 5 gallon other than the 3g?

james on February 15, 2010:

also think it was under a lot stress after it molt, this could have been the problem and check my S.G. it was 1.022 so it of been both the salt level and the molting issue that cause the death, but still doing some reading to make sure.

James on February 15, 2010:

This is a very sad day the harlequin pass away today. All I can do is learn from this, right? LOL at this point i'm going take a break from this amazing animal. after a two or three month I'll try again, it wasn't like the harlequin hard to take care of. just don't have the money to get another plus thinking in doing mushroom coral for my tank with some small polps. c-ya

PirateFX (author) on February 14, 2010:

Hi James, is a great resource. He's very passionate about what he does and is a pretty well known guy. As for mated pairs helping each other out during molting, i've personally never witnessed such events but i haven't witnessed each an every molt to make an accurate call.

James on February 13, 2010:

I did some reading after i send the comment to you and found a thread written by a breeder ,that state their limb will grow back; and it also said when they're in pairs they help each other molt by pinching one another making it easier to molt. Also I went on even they say that you should buy them in pairs, I'm thinking this could be the reason why. but I don't know if they know this fact, but I do belive the breeder if you're curious here's the breeder website ;] oh, at this point with my live stock if you're wondering I have a feather duster ( fan worm) one fire(blood) shrimp, and the harlequin shrimp. I'm so waiting to see if my LfS store will get in a female, but lately they haven't get any in yet

but i'm hoping they're get one in soon, i'm also thinking doing a small colony of red mushroom/w some green if Lfs store has any in. C-ya

p.s. If you do have a chance to read the thread, I would like to heard your opinion :]

PirateFX (author) on February 13, 2010:

Thats not normal, must've had some difficulty during the molt. I don't know if it will grow back, wait until the next molt.

James on February 12, 2010:

My harlequin just molted, but he lost his left claw is normal when shrimp molt? :0

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 10, 2010:

Beautiful shrimp! This was interesting to learn although I have no intention of getting an aquarium. Years ago we had a couple of fresh water aquariums but finally gave them away. Now I simply enjoy other people's aquariums when I get to see them. Lots of work keeping them clean with healthy environments.

James on February 10, 2010:

AT this point I'm not getting anything else other than another a skunk cleaner and the feather duster. and again I have no fish in the tank LOL, just inverbates.

James on February 10, 2010:

I heard that feather dusters are easy to care for and wondering if this animal will live happily in my tank.

PirateFX (author) on February 10, 2010:

I've read that too but haven't fed urchins myself.

James on February 09, 2010:

hey have you ever tried feeding a harlequin sea Urchins, I read this on, just wondering if this is true or not? :}

James on February 08, 2010:

THInking in getting a skunk cleaner shrimp later this month and a feather duster after another month or two. I hope this clear up the conflusion.

James on February 08, 2010:

No LOL, I'm doing one harlequin for now and have a fire shrimp in the tank. and I had a common fire fish ( it was not a Purple) I got him out of the tank already. i'm now doing invertebrates with live rock. :]

PirateFX (author) on February 08, 2010:

So if i understand this correctly, your livestock as it stands is Purple firefish + Fire Shrimp + Harlequin shrimp in a 10g? If that is the case, you're at the limit. Its time for a bigger tank my friend. A 20g should be suitable for your livestock plus a female harlequin.

James on February 08, 2010:

OK, Question, how many Marine Shrimp can have I with one harlequin shrimp, (right now I have a fire shrimp) OH the reason I'm asking this again is well , I'm having hard time getting a female harlequin for my tank so I'm thinking of just keeping the one I have in my tank. :) PLus I'm not getting a clear answer from other website.

James on February 08, 2010:

Yeah I'm beginner, I kinda got carried way with my message to you, I just got little nervous about the harlequin safely. And I did use a powerhead to mix salt

PirateFX (author) on February 07, 2010:

Most salt brands will give a bit of residue regardless of how long the mix has been aerated. To be on the safe side, you'd want to aerate (with a powerhead) your mixes for two hours or so.

Just curious James, is this your first marine tank?

James on February 05, 2010:

hey thought the salt water I mix for my water change was dissolve, but i saw some salt fall into my my tank on a piece of my live rock, i want to know if I should clean off the salt of rock. I'm kinda nervous to wash it off. :{

James on February 04, 2010:

hey have you try feeding your harleys a sea unichin (hope I spelled that right).

PirateFX (author) on February 04, 2010:

I can't comment on the dietary needs of the bumble bee's as i've never had these shrimp. But they're cute that's for sure. As for the bongo's, rarity rules in this hobby unfortunately. Just look at the black tang. Nothing to write home about looks-wise but they're pretty darn pricey.

James on February 03, 2010:

Just check out the price tag for the bongos, I'm quit amaze by the price LOL :] but is it worth it ?Hmm, non I Like the harleqiuns a lot better they're bigger and very attractive.

James on February 03, 2010:

I don't mean the the Bongo :}but the (Gnathophyllum americanum)

James on February 03, 2010:

I'm thinking of getting bumble bee shrimps ( the salter kind) with the harlequins, I heard they also eat the tube feet of star fish to, is this true? if so,i was thinking that I could uses them as clean up crew to pick up what the Harley don't eat.

PirateFX (author) on February 03, 2010:

Hi James, good call on the bigger tank =) Bongo's are much rarer and pricier than the harley's but care remains the same. They will consume any starfish offered. gets them from time to time.

James on February 03, 2010:

Hey have you heard of spiny tiger shrimp(Bongo Bumble Bee Shrimps), I just discover this while looking up more informtion about the Harlequins , it's pretty scray looking but in a cool way. they're a close relative of the harlequins; the only difference between them is that the bongo eats serpant starfish( brittle star). And their pretty small too( 1inch to maybe 2Inches long).

James on February 03, 2010:

I was thing about changing the tank into a Marine shrimp only with live rock. I have learn in this hobby you to have to make sacifices or invest in a bigger tank :}LOL So i'm probbily going do this, even though I really don't want to get fire fish out. {but for now It's shrimp only)

James on February 03, 2010:

So, what's just i didn't have the firefish in the tank and Only the Harleys could I be able do one cleaner shrimp and five sexy shrimp?

PirateFX (author) on February 02, 2010:

Hi James, a harley pair and a fish would be at the limit. However, this is my personal preference. For some, this stocking level would be over the limit.

James on February 02, 2010:

ould I try doing a one cleaner skunk in the tank with them

or this is still to crowded ? or I'll just do the pair and the firefish like I said before.

James on February 02, 2010:

yeah your right, i'm going do a pair Harleys and Firefish,

i haven't purchase any of the shrimp I stated yet. but i'm just gong do these for now. and till i'm able to get a larger tank. thanks for the help

PirateFX (author) on February 01, 2010:

James - That is really crowded for a 10g. Maybe you could spring for something bigger like a 30-40g?

Rich - I think you have an asterina star infestation. Some harlequins will eat them and some won't, which makes things tricky. No harm trying though.

James on February 01, 2010:

hey iam probbbly going do a pair Harleys plus the firefish, five sexy shrimp, One cleaner shrimp ( blood Or skunk)

I also want to know if this is to crowd for my tank? thanks

Rich on February 01, 2010:

I have a 100 gallon corner with a ton of anthias (sp) starfish that seenm to be snacking on my corals. I was goingto get a pair of harleys to celan up the 100 or so samll starfish. Will they eat these little starfish?

James on February 01, 2010:

Iam thinking of doing one Haliequin for now with one firefish, five sexy shrimp,and maybe a fire shrimp or skunk cleaner or making the tank into a shrimp only but i'm still thinking about it. or maybe i could just invest into a bigger tank :]LOL

PirateFX (author) on February 01, 2010:

To be honest, the firefish would be a bit on the large side for me personally with regards to a 10g. I think they can reach 3 inches in captivity. However, while it may be a bit cramped, they will eat and survive in the 10g no problems. And with a WC schedule of 30 percent every week, i wouldn't worry about adding any supplements for any marine shrimp you may purchase.

So its gonna be a pair of harley's plus the firefish?

James on February 01, 2010:

Oh should I supplement iodine for the shrimps?

James on February 01, 2010:

Thanks for the help man,I feel a lot better now so the fire fish i have will be a good choice for the 10g? this probbily going to the only fish in the tank, if not I'll just do shrimps and maybe a Tail Spot Blenny if i can find one for sale.

PirateFX (author) on February 01, 2010:

Whether or not its a bad idea to add fish to a 10g depends very much on the type of fish you're thinking of adding. There are some good candidates for nano's such as yours and a good number of them hail from the goby family. Neon gobies, clown gobies, smaller high-fin gobies are good choices. My personal rule for smaller aquariums is sticking to fish below two inches. I would add no more than two small gobies in a 10g. With a harlequin pair, i'd probably just have a single fish and call it a day.

I think weekly water changes of 30 percent is good. Of course, this also depends on the amount that is being fed on a daily basis and your nutrient levels at the end of the week. But overall, 30 percent is good. Drop me a line if you have any other questions. Cheers.

James on January 31, 2010:

thanks for the help, but have two more questions ,i know that water water quality is very important for these animal. what I want to know if I can do a 25% water change or do a 33% water change a week? And i have been doing a lot research on marine shrimp and heard that for my tank size it's bad idea to add fish at all. Really want to if this is true or not too?

PirateFX (author) on January 31, 2010:

A nano, my favorite kinda tank =) I've found that Harlequins do alright with the regular cleaners (blood, skunk) provided there is enough space. They are quite territorial and don't take too kindly to trespassers when it comes to their den. I noticed in the sexy shrimp thread you're thinking of getting a small group of sexy's for this tank? It should be fine as long as the harlequins don't get their hands on a sexy. But these tiny shrimp are agile enough to get out of harms way quite easily.

James on January 30, 2010:

Will do, I am trying to start a pair and also want to know if they do well with other shrimp? I want to change my tank to a shrimp only tank, but i'm still thinking about it. Right now i have a Fishfish with some hermits and snails in my 10 gallon. I also want to if this is a heathly mix for my tank sizes?

PirateFX (author) on January 30, 2010:

Hi James, thanks for stopping by. I think they'll do just fine if kept alone but if you're trying to pair two of them make sure you get another specimen of the same size.

james on January 28, 2010:

hi i just got one today, i was wondering if i need to get another for the shrimp to live happily in my tank?

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