Pistol shrimp care guide

pistol shrimp guide

The Pistol shrimp is a marine invertebrate that is impressive in nature, desirable, and very unique. It is well known for its snapping technique and it is where it got its name because it creates a loud sound, and a very great force that is capable of knocking out fish, and small inverts. These species can be kept in a saltwater aquarium, and they are compatible with most corals and non-aggressive fish. These species are naturally easy to care for. 

If you want to know more about the care of the pistol shrimp, read on:

Origin of Pistol Shrimp

The pistol shrimp hails from the caridean shrimp family called Alpheidae. The common feature that members of this family have are the asymmetrical class, having a larger claw that is capable of producing a loud snapping sound. This family has over 600 species that are grouped in about 38 genera. Synalpheus and Alpheus have over 100 and 250 species respectively. 

The taxonomic hierarchy of the pistol shrimp is arranged as: it belongs to the Animalia Kingdom, Arthropoda phylum, Crustacea Subphylum, the class of malacostraca, decapoda order, the Alpheidae superfamily, and the family of Alphaidae. 

Habitat of Pistol Shrimp

Pistol shrimps are known to have a cosmopolitan distribution, and they exist commonly in oyster reefs, coral reefs, muddy estuaries, and submerged seagrass flats. Most of these shrimps are known to dwell on marine waters, tropical, temperate coastal areas. 

The Appearence of Pistol Shrimp

Pistol shrimps are colorful, agile, and beautiful to look at. They are fairly small in size, estimated at a range of 3-5cm in terms of the body length. They are equipped with two asymmetrical classes, namely a specialized claw meant for snapping, and a normal claw. The larger claw is what the pistol shrimp is easily noticed for, and it is large, even more than half the shrimp body’s length. 

The snapping claw of the pistol shrimp can either be in the right, or left arm, and there is a chance of it reversing during its lifetime. Upon losing of the snapping claw, the smaller existing claw will molt, and be modified into a snapping claw, and the lost claw will eventually regenerate into a smaller claw. 

This snapping claw has two parts, one part is referred to as the hammer that snaps into the other part of the claw to result in a powerful snap. It is well known that Pistol shrimp have a weak eyesight with some believing that it is blind which is not true. When they are kept as pets, they can last for about 3 to 4 years. 

Pistol Shrimp Behavior

These species have a unique, and rather interesting behavior which is also what puts these species on the map. At first they were considered a nuisance, and were taken as wanted in Coral or live rock. Upon feeling threatened, the pistol shrimp opens its claw, and prepares it in a way like a gun is cocked. 

Once the claw snaps shut, this groove channels water, and the water is forced at a great speed of 60 miles per hour. A bubble is then produced from the pressure changes, one of the loudest sounds is produced in the ocean, loud enough to be detected on a submarine sonar. Intense heat, and light can even be produced from this bubble’s collapse. 

The Snapping Technique

The powerful snapping ability is what the Pistol Shrimp is well known for. The pistol shrimp makes use of it’s large claw as a communication tool, and a weapon as well. The rapid closure of the claw produces a loud sound, technically one of the very loud sounds in the ocean. 

Maybe just to give you a hint, a lion roar averages around 115 decibels, jet take-off around 150 decibels, and the snap of pistol shrimp averages around 210 decibels underwater, amazing! 

During the second world war, Americans made use of the sound from pistol shrimp colonies as an acoustic screen, and this helped them to hide their submarines. 

Feeding Pistol Shrimp

These species are well known scavengers, and naturally detritus feeders, hence they can easily be seen on the substrate feeding on detritus. These species are carnivorous, and they feed on small invertebrates. 

The detritus, and macroalgae will be eaten, carcasses near its burrow will be scavenged. Sometimes it comes with a symbiotic relationship with the goby, and it brings it food. Apart from feeding on the detritus, they also eat small meaty foods like: mussel, scallop, brine shrimp, and mysis shrimp. 

Are Pistol Shrimp Coral Safe?

No need for you to worry about the pistol shrimp picking on your corals, or causing destruction to colonies of zoas, which implies that they are technically safe for reef tanks in that sense. These species do not feed on corals. 

Although this is the case, there are still some things you have to be aware of like the pistol shrimp stealing frags, and moving them around. They make use of them to build their burrows.

 In addition to that, they are also involved in sand storms from burrowing, you can refer to them as little bulldozers. The sand, and gravel I’d constantly moved around because they kept tunneling. 

Tank Requirements and Water Parameters

Tank size:

It is recommended that you have a tank size ranging from 120 litres above, the larger the tank the better. Enough room is thus provided for the shrimp to roam, preventing it from coming in close contact with other clitters in the reef tank. Take this seriously, and know that small tanks will increase aggression in pistol shrimp. 

Water Parameters:

It must have a temperature of about 75 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit, a pH preferably between 6.5 to 7.5, it must have a hardness of between 8 to 12 dKH. The salinity must range from 1.024 to 1.026. The calcium must range from 400 to 450 ppm, the nitrates must be below 10 ppm, and phosphates must be below less than 0.1 ppm. 


Light is useless when it comes to pistol shrimps, and it will be avoided by the pistol shrimp most of the time. Lighting should be provided according to the needs of the reef tank. 

Caring and Keeping Pistol Shrimp

It is easy to take care of the pistol shrimp, and make sure that there is enough room in the tank for them to explore. Although pistol shrimps usually spend much of their time in it’s lair, the burrow, at most occasions it will come from it’s home, and go into the open with the aim of feeding on food items, and detritus. 

It would be deadly for the pistol shrimp to meet other shrimps, small fish, and crabs, more especially when they charge at it. This issue can be minimized by putting the pistol shrimp in a very large tank. Make sure that all the rockworks are safe as deep burrows might be formed by the pistol shrimp, that causes them to collapse. 

Make sure that your pistol shrimp is fed regularly. Mineral, iodine supplements must be provided to keep it healthy, and help it with its molting process. Regular water changes must also be carried out to keep the water clean, and make sure the needed minerals are replaced. 

The shrimp must be drip-acclimated before it is added to the reef tank, for it to suitably adjust to the new water conditions. The tank conditions must be kept stable because its health might be affected by inconsistent water parameters. This must be done slowly, and the temperature must be checked if it is correct before the shrimp can be added to the tank. 

Breeding Pistol Shrimp

The reproductive system of the pistol shrimp is mostly dependent on the molt cycle of the female shrimp. They involve themselves in a monogamous mating system that allows them to retain the same mate after initial copulation. After molting, the females are mostly sexually receptive. Those who do not have mates tend to mate by the use of chemical signals, and snaps are produced with their specially adapted claws. 

Shrimps of both genders will tend to form a mating pair, and they mate at the right time in the molt cycle of the female. During all this period, protection will be provided to the female by the male while she molts. The number of eggs per brood can vary depending on the species, and they range from a few hundred to several hundred females. When the fertilization has been completed, they can stay for 4 weeks before hatching. 

In addition to that, the development of larva occurs in three stages, separated by a series of molts. The first stage has a duration of about 2 hours where the enlargement of the organism occurs. The second larval stage is estimated to last about 28 hours, and appendages formed to develop further. Finally, the third stage can go on for as far as 2 to 3 days, where the shrimp enters the post larval stage, the form of an adult shrimp is attained. 


Although they have a dangerous defense mechanism, they are safe to be put in the community, and reef tanks. The snapping technique is not used for hunting, and it does not attack tank mates unless they are provoked. A good relationship might even be formed between the pistol shrimps, and other fish like the aptly-named Shrimp Gobies, or with corals, and other organisms. Not all shrimps do this though. 

The tank mates that are compatible with pistol shrimps can vary depending on the species. They can be kept in the same tank with mates that do not eat pistol shrimp but they must not be kept with other Shrimps, and small fish like some blennies, or clown gobies.

 Compatible tankmates for pistol shrimp can vary depending on the species. Elaborate burrows can be formed by some pistol shrimps so all rockwork must be kept stable to prevent it from collapsing. Remember that pistol shrimps are scavengers, and they will feed on detritus, and small meaty foods. 

Most pistol shrimp rarely move away from their homes hence the need to target-feed your shrimp with foods like brine shrimp, scallop, and similar foods so that they are not outcompeted for food by their tankmates. 

Just like the way crustaceans do it, these species also have to moly their hard skeleton for them to grow. A hard, and healthy skeleton is formed with the provision of mineral, and iodine supplements. The levels that are found in quality salt mixes are most of the time enough, but in reef tanks that are heavily stocked, there might be a need for extra supplements. Although they might grow big, most of them can be kept in small tanks since they do not grow that much. 

What happens if a pistol shrimp hits you?

This is mostly dependent on the size of the pistol shrimp. Large species of pistol shrimp can give you that stingy feel, and you will feel like you have been hit by a strong rubber band although your skin won’t be broken by this, or your bones broken. 

Although that is the case, large species are not kept in tanks. Also worry not, your tank will not be broken by even a large pistol shrimp. They do not have the strength of the glass of the tank although they have a snap that is extremely powerful. 

The ones that are small do not hurt at all. When you make a decision to keep your pistol shrimp in your reef tank as a pet, it is strictly prohibited that you touch it with your bare hands. 


Reaching this end, you must remember that a Pistol shrimp is an invertebrate that is impressive in nature, desirable and very unique. It is well known for its snapping technique and it is where it got its name because it creates a loud sound, and a very great force that is capable of knocking out fish, and small inverts. 

The pistol shrimp hails from the caridean shrimp family called Alpheidae. The common feature that members of this family have are the asymmetrical class, having a larger claw that is capable of producing a loud snapping sound. 

Eddie Mcfarren

Eddie Mcfarren is an avid Pet blogger who is passionate about pet welfare and everything to do with animals. His passion for writing does not intend to provide veterinary advice. However, when he writes about pets, he will go to great lengths to help users better understand their dogs. His pet dog Tess helps him in understanding a great deal of care and living with pets at home. On a serious note, the content on this blog is not a substitute for veterinary guidance. Only competently trained Vets can offer qualified advice about your pet's ailments. Therefore, make sure to seek advice from your local veterinarian officer near you!

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