Pistol Shrimp

Pistol Shrimp: A Guide to Raising These Unique Creatures

Pistol Shrimp, members of the Alpheidae family, are fascinating crustaceans that have captivated aquarists worldwide due to their unique hunting abilities and striking appearances. Known for their specialized claw that creates a powerful snapping noise, these small creatures are perfect additions to saltwater tanks. In this comprehensive guide, we will discuss everything you need to know about Pistol Shrimp care, including species information, appearance, lifespan, tank requirements, water parameters, diet, behavior, tank mates, popular species, and breeding.

Species Overview

Pistol Shrimp inhabit tropical and temperate coastal waters around the globe, with hundreds of species belonging to the Alpheidae family. These crustaceans can be found in various environments, such as coral reefs, oyster reefs, and seagrass flats. They are primarily burrowers, spending most of their time hidden away when not foraging for food.

While many Pistol Shrimp species share similar behaviors and traits, it is essential to verify the specific species you are acquiring from your vendor. Some species are more territorial and aggressive than others, making them less suitable for cohabitation with other crustaceans and fish.


All Pistol Shrimp possess two differently sized claws: a pincer and a snapper. The pincer resembles the claws of other shrimp species, while the snapper is roughly half the length of the shrimp’s body. The snapper claw consists of two parts – the propus, which fills with water, and the dactyl, which functions as a plunger by moving into the propus. This movement creates pressure that expels a blast, forming an air bubble and a snapping noise.

Pistol Shrimp have antennae, two black eyes at the top of their head, and six legs along their abdomen’s underside. Their coloration varies depending on the species, with most shrimp showcasing colors such as red, brown, blue, green, white, or a combination of these hues. Some species may also display striking patterns.


Pistol Shrimp have an average lifespan of around four years. They are relatively affordable and are an excellent choice for beginner aquarists due to their ease of care and feeding requirements.

Average Size

Despite their powerful abilities, Pistol Shrimp are quite small, with an average size of just 1 to 2 inches in length. Males are typically larger than females and have a more prominent snapping claw.

Tank Requirements

When it comes to Pistol Shrimp care, providing a suitable tank environment is crucial. These shrimp are reef-safe and diligent burrowers, making them valuable additions to saltwater tanks as they help oxygenate the substrate. They generally do not pose a threat to other fish unless threatened or lacking adequate space in the substrate.

Tank Size

A tank size of at least 30 gallons is recommended for housing Pistol Shrimp, as they require a minimum of 4 inches of substrate for burrowing. Although sand is acceptable, crushed coral is a better option, as it allows the shrimp to burrow more easily through the rougher material.

If you plan to keep more than one Pistol Shrimp, a larger tank is necessary to ensure each shrimp has enough space to dig. Keep in mind that they can be highly territorial with members of the same species.

Water Parameters

Maintaining the appropriate water parameters is essential in Pistol Shrimp care. The following guidelines should be followed:

  • 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

Tank Decorations

While Pistol Shrimp spend much of their time beneath the tank floor, it is not necessary to provide hiding spots or vegetation. Instead, ensure that the tank contains adequate loose rock and coral pieces that the shrimp can use for building. These materials will be utilized by the shrimp to fortify the complex tunnels they create.

Additionally, it is crucial to stabilize any large rock and coral beds within the tank. Pistol Shrimp construct extensive tunnel networks, which may weaken the foundation of rock structures if they rest on too much sand or crushed coral. Potential collapses could damage your coral or harm your Pistol Shrimp.

Health Considerations

Pistol Shrimp are not particularly prone to disease; however, they are highly susceptible to copper. Refrain from using tank additives containing copper and move any fish requiring copper-based treatments to a separate tank.

Like other invertebrates, Pistol Shrimp are sensitive to nitrate buildup. Be sure to follow a consistent schedule for water changes and remove decaying fish and other organic matter promptly.

Diet and Feeding

In the wild, Pistol Shrimp are carnivorous and active scavengers, consuming decaying fish and plant materials. Their specialized claw is used to shock and stun prey. In captivity, they readily accept flakes, pellets, and defrosted frozen foods. Providing small pieces of fish, brine shrimp, mussel, scallop, or squid two or three times per week is usually sufficient.

It is recommended to place food at the entrance to the shrimp’s burrow. If the shrimp is hungry, it will bring the food underground; otherwise, it will push the food away. Monitoring feedings is essential, as underfed Pistol Shrimp may hunt invertebrates within the tank.

Behavior and Temperament

Despite their unique hunting abilities, Pistol Shrimp are generally shy and docile creatures. They are nocturnal and prefer to remain within their tunnel systems unless searching for food. The specialized claw is used not only for hunting but also for defense against predators. When you hear the characteristic “pop” sound, it likely indicates that your shrimp feels threatened. Depending on the species, this sound can reach up to 210 decibels, louder than most gunshots.

Related: Powder Brown Tang: A Guide to Care, Diet, and Tank Setup

Tank Mates and Partners

Pistol Shrimp are known to form symbiotic relationships with certain species of gobies, such as the Mandarin Goby. These shrimp have limited vision, making it difficult for them to detect predators. Gobies, on the other hand, appreciate hiding spaces within the substrate.

The two species form a mutually beneficial relationship, with the goby gaining access to the shrimp’s tunnel system and the shrimp receiving protection from the goby’s heightened awareness of potential threats. The shrimp will often rest its antennae on the goby, which flaps its fins to signal the shrimp. In addition, the shrimp may benefit from leftover food discarded by the goby.

To increase the chances of a successful pairing, it is recommended to purchase the shrimp and goby together and acclimate them to the aquarium in the same bag or isolation tank. Ensure that the chosen species of shrimp and goby are both open to forming a symbiotic relationship.

Pistol Shrimp can also coexist with other small, non-aggressive fish and sponges. As long as the shrimp’s nutritional needs are met and its territory remains undisturbed, it will generally keep to itself.

Avoid housing Pistol Shrimp with groupers, hawkfish, lionfish, puffers, triggers, and mantis shrimp, as these species may prey on your Pistol Shrimp. Additionally, bottom-dwelling fish, other shrimp, crabs, and snails may inadvertently disturb the shrimp’s burrow, leading to potential conflict.

Popular Pistol Shrimp Species

While there are numerous Pistol Shrimp species, some of the most popular ones are sought after for their striking colors and patterns:

  • Tiger Pistol Shrimp (Alpheus bellulus): The most commonly raised Pistol Shrimp, Tiger Pistol Shrimp have white bodies with intricate reddish-brown patterns and distinct purple markings on their legs. They pair well with gobies.
  • Randall’s Shrimp (Alpheus randalli): These shrimp feature a whitish color with uneven red rings across their body and claws. They also form bonds with gobies.
  • Bullseye Shrimp (Alpheus soror): Boasting an orangish-pink color with stark black splotches on each side of their tail, this species has purple claws but does not associate with gobies.
  • Red Caribbean Pistol Shrimp (Alpheus sp): This more aggressive species has red bodies with white accent markings and purplish legs. Instead of bonding with gobies, they form symbiotic relationships with Curlycue Anemones.


Breeding Pistol Shrimp can be challenging due to their territorial nature and the vulnerability of their larvae. These shrimp form monogamous bonds and mate repeatedly. Females reproduce after each molt cycle when they are most susceptible to attack due to the absence of an exoskeleton. Males protect the female during this phase, allowing them to mate without searching for new partners.

Females lay between several hundred to thousands of eggs, depending on the species. The eggs are carried under the female’s abdomen and hatch approximately 28 days after fertilization. The larvae then complete three molt periods over the next 78 to 102 hours, eventually reaching their shrimplet phase and beginning to scavenge for food as they grow into adulthood.

To increase the chances of successful breeding, it is recommended to purchase two Pistol Shrimp together and introduce them to the tank as a unit. This familiarity maximizes the odds that they will pair off and share tunnels. Obtaining the largest possible male with a sizable claw will also increase the likelihood of the female being receptive.

Final Thoughts

Pistol Shrimp make a fantastic addition to any saltwater tank, as long as their territorial behavior and specific care requirements are taken into consideration. By following the guidelines in this comprehensive guide, you can ensure a thriving environment for your Pistol Shrimp and enjoy the captivating behaviors of these unique creatures.

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