Banded coral shrimp

12 Best Reef Safe Shrimp (2 that are not)

Saltwater shrimp are some of the most beautiful and graceful animals you can add to your reef tank. But not all species are reef safe or suitable for your tank. No need to research the individual species to find out. Check out this list of the 12 Best Reef Safe Shrimp. Read all the way through the article to find 2 shrimp types that are not.

List of 12 Best Reef Safe Shrimp for a Saltwater Aquarium

  1. Scarlet Skunk Cleaner Shrimp (Lysmata amboinensis)
  2. Blood Red Fire Shrimp (Lysmata debelius)
  3. Peppermint (Lysmata wundermanni)
  4. Red Banded Coral Shrimp (Stenopus hispidus)
  5. Blue Banded Coral Shrimp (Stenopus tenuiros)
  6. Gold Banded coral shrimp (Stenopus zanzibaricus)
  7. Yellow Banded Coral Shrimp (Stenopus cyanoscelis)
  8. Tiger Snapping Shrimp (Alpheus bellulus)
  9. Red Banded snapping shrimp (Alpheus randalli)
  10. White-spotted anemone shrimp(Periclimenes brevicarpalis)
  11. Sexy shrimp (Thor amboinensis) 
  12. Harlequin (Hymenocera elegans)

Definition of reef safe

Reef safe means that the shrimp species in this list will not harm community saltwater aquarium fish, corals, or sessile invertebrates including clams, anemones and others.

Cleaner shrimp

The three most common cleaner shrimps in the hobby are the Skunk Cleaner, Fire Shrimp, and Peppermint Shrimp. They are also the most frequently available of all the reef safe shrimp types at local fish stores, national chains, and online.

When they are not cleaning the fish in your tank, looking for parasites and eating loose scales and mucus, they will also search around the tank and scavenge for food, detritus, and algae.

1. Scarlet Skunk Cleaner Shrimp (Lysmata amboinensis) 

Scarlet Skunk Cleaner Shrimp

The skunk cleaner is the most popular reef safe shrimp for a saltwater aquarium

If you think you might have seen this shrimp before, you probably have. Jacques, in Finding Nemo, is the Scarlet Skunk Cleaner Shrimp that cleans the saltwater fish named Nemo when he first enters the tank and declares him “clean” once finished.

The dramatic red and white striping with gigantic white antennae give this shrimp a distinct and desirable look that makes them one of the most popular as well as best reef safe shrimp.

2. Blood Red Fire Shrimp (Lysmata debelius) 

Blood Red Fire Shrimp

The Blood Red Fire Shrimp is one of the most stunningly beautiful animals you will find in the aquarium hobby. It’s hard to find a more vibrant red coloration in nature. They are shy creatures, like most of the other shrimp on this list, and are completely reef safe.

3. Peppermint Shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni)

Peppermint shrimp

The Peppermint Shrimp is reef-safe, will sometimes provide cleaner services for your fish and will also eat the dreaded aiptasia anemones.

Coral banded shrimp (aka. Coral Boxing Shrimp)

There are three different, but closely related species of reef safe Coral Banded Shrimp that you might encounter in the hobby. They all belong to the Stenopus Genus and are reef safe shrimp.

4. Red Banded Coral Shrimp (Stenopus hispidus)

Boxing shrimp

The Red Banded Boxing Shrimp is the most commonly available and least expensive. Once you see the images, you’ll understand how they each get their name.

5. Blue Banded Coral Boxing Shrimp (Stenopus tenuirostris) 

Blue banded coral shrimp

The Blue Banded Coral Boxing Shrimp, as you can tell, has a very similar appearance with the other Stenopus species, but with blue highlights on the bands, it stands out as a more colorful, and therefore more highly desirable option.

6. Yellow Banded Coral Boxing Shrimp (Stenopus cyanoscelis)

The Yellow Banded Coral Shrimp is another reef-safe shrimp option. Take a look at the video to see them in action.

7. Gold Banded Coral Shrimp (Stenopus zanzibaricus)

Very similar to the Yellow-banded, the Gold Banded Boxing Shrimp is also reef safe.

Snapping Shrimp/Pistol Shrimp

The Snapping Shrimp species, also sometimes called Pistol Shrimp, are fascinating to watch, because they have a symbiotic relationship with the shrimp gobies. Part bulldozer, part sharp-shooter, these shrimp primarily set their weapon to stun, for self-defense, although they might occasionally hunt, if not well fed.

8. Tiger Snapping (Alpheus bellulus)

Tiger snapping shrimp

The Tiger Snapping Shrimp, like most of the shrimp on this list, gets its common name from the coloration on its shell. This species is reef safe, meaning they won’t harm your corals, fish or other invertebrates, and is one of the most popular in the hobby. It’s best to buy it already as a bonded pair with a goby.

9. Red Banded Snapping (Alpheus randalli) 

Tiger snapping shrimp with goby

Another shrimp you may see at your local fish store or online is the Red Banded Snapping Shrimp. This is another Pistol shrimp invertebrate that pairs with a goby. the coloration is a bit more drab than some of the others, but they make up for it with their tunneling behavior. It is fascinating to watch this reef safe shrimp constantly dig. They dig more than my kids do in Minecraft.

10. Anemone Shrimp

Another fun mutualism to observe is the relationship between certain reef safe shrimp and their anemones. Here are two popular options for your saltwater aquarium.

10. White Spotted Anemone Shrimp

White spotted anemone shrimp

The White-spotted anemone shrimp (Periclimenes brevicarpalis), also known as the glass anemone shrimp is a peaceful, easy-to-care-for reef safe shrimp that also grows to about 2 inches in length as an adult.

11. Sexy Shrimp (Thor amboinensis)

Sexy shrimp

The reef safe Sexy Shrimp is a small invertebrate that packs a ton of personality and interest into the saltwater aquariums they call home. They are easy-to-care-fore omnivorous shrimp types that grow to about 1.25 inches in total length as adults.

12. Harlequin Shrimp

Harlequin shrimp on live rock

The Harlequin shrimp is considered to be reef safe, because they will not harm the saltwater aquarium fish or corals in your tank, but they are natural predators of starfish and sea urchins. In fact, their diet consists entirely of these echinoderms, and as such, need to be fed starfish to avoid starvation.

They are often added to get rid of an Asterina starfish problem.

Reef safe shrimp aquarium parameters

  • Temp: 76-82 Degrees Fahrenheit
  • pH: 8.1-8.4
  • Salinity: 1.025 Specific Gravity

Check out this great article on reef tank water parameters here. The key to having great water quality is to start off with the right salt mix and keep the water clean with a protein skimmer.

They are extremely sensitive to copper. Be careful never to use copper to treat parasites like ich in the same tank as them.

Minimum tank size

All of the reef safe shrimp in this article are relatively small in size and would do fine in just about any aquarium size. Check out these guides for recommendations on other tank mates based on the intended size of your tank:

Feeding

Most of the reef safe saltwater shrimp on this list are omnivorous, opportunistic scavengers, and others are even cleaners, but you should not fully rely on them to feed themselves. Even though they would be quite self-sufficient on a natural reef, they may not find enough food to eat in your home aquarium and could starve.

You will find that some of the more aggressive individual shrimp will swim out and catch floating flakes or frozen foods from the current, while others will be quite shy and hide away. If you don’t routinely observe your shrimp eating, it’s best to try to feed them directly with sinking pellets or disks, like Formula one, Formula two, or Seaweed Extreme Pellets, as well as Sinking Algae wafers.

Lifespan

Unfortunately, the lifespan of a shrimp, even when in good condition, is only a couple of years. So enjoy those days while they last and take lots of pictures of your beautiful inverts.

Reproduction

While it is possible for shrimp to mate in a reef tank aquarium, it is challenging to raise the larvae to adulthood. Shrimp go through many different metamorphoses and larval stages and are challenging to raise, which is an absolute shame, because several of the species on this list are hermaphroditic and would pair up and spawn readily.

The most commonly available aquaculture reef safe shrimp is the Peppermint Shrimp.

If you are interested in raising your own aquaculture reef safe shrimp, check out this book: How to Raise and Train Peppermint Shrimp, for more information. 

Acclimation

Be sure to slowly drip acclimate newly purchased saltwater shrimp and gently scoop them into the tank while remaining completely submerged.

2 Types of Saltwater Shrimp that are extremely cool, but are NOT Reef Safe

1. Camel shrimp

Camel shrimp

The Camel Shrimp is an attractive saltwater shrimp type that is sometimes confused with the Peppermint shrimp, much to the disappointment of the reef tank owner who just bought it.

Unfortunately, Camel Shrimp can acquire a taste for the soft fleshy coral polyps in your tank, making them definitively NOT reef safe shrimp.

2. Mantis shrimp

Mantis shrimp

The Mantis Shrimp is gorgeous, but unfortunately is a big-time reef tank ambush predator. It would be unusual for an aquarium store to sell you this invert without disclosing that information, or even possibly being confused, but these dreaded shrimp make a living hitchhiking their way into your tank on live rock.

If that caught your attention and you want to learn more, check out this Definitive Guide about Live Rock Hitchhikers.

Conclusion

The 12 Best Reef Safe Shrimp on this list are delicate, graceful, gorgeous invertebrate animals that will liven up any reef tank. In addition to the unique beauty they bring individually, these shrimp types are also amazingly popular because of the ways they interact with the other animals in your tank.

The cleaner shrimp will set up a station to interact with your larger fish and keep them parasite-free.

The anemone shrimp will live mutualistically with an anemone in your tank, and the Snapping Shrimp will pair up and build a house (really a tunnel) with a Goby. Each of these behaviors will give you hours and hours of fascinating observation time.

The Mantis shrimp and Camel Shrimp, on the other hand, are not reef-safe. They will eat your fish or corals.

What to Read Next

Check out these other must-read articles:

References

Kirkendoll, April. How to Raise & Train Your Peppermint Shrimp. Lysmata Publishing (2008).

Calfo, Anthony. Invertebrates: An Essential Guide to Selection, Care and Compatibility. Reading Trees (2003).

Shimek, Ronald L. A PocketExpert Guide to Marine Invertebrates: 500+ Essential-to-Know Aquarium Species. TFH Publications (2005).

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