Shrimp manicure – those two words might not seem like they go together. But today we are enjoying some “shrimp manicures” courtesy of our new skunk cleaner shrimp. This is one of just a few species of shrimp that will clean parasites off of other fish. And they don’t just do it when a fish happens by, or when its convenient. They actually “advertise” their services by setting up “cleaning stations” on a coral reef and waving their white antenna to attract fish to come over. But the shrimp don’t do it for free – in exchange for the fish getting a cleaning, the shrimp gets a free meal of tasty parasites. And the fish also do something else for the shrimp – most won’t eat the shrimp because of this cleaning behavior. These shrimp have even been known to go right into the mouths of moray eels to clean their teeth!
Come to the Museum’s Sea Lab and you can see this Indo-Pacific species – there is also a related species native to Florida – in one of our touch trays in the exhibit. (We also have two other species of cleaner shrimp – the blood shrimp and the spotted cleaner shrimp. Just ask the Museum staff how to find them.) In the touch tank, you can see the skunk cleaner shrimp cleaning other fish, and helping us keep the parasite numbers down. And if you want to take advantage of the shrimps’ services, slowly move your hand towards them, and they will hop on and start picking at your fingernails (just make sure you don’t have an open wound). Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt, they are gentle and good at their jobs!