Snorkeling with Skeleton Shrimp
Skeleton shrimp are an unusual family of amphipods (Capredllidae) found in all oceans but certainly common around coral reefs where they cling to gorgonians, hydroids, and bryozoans. Though common, they are incredibly tiny and are barely discernible, reaching 1-2 cm long but only 1-2 mm wide! They feed on just about anything they can get their little claws upon – diatoms, crustacean larvae, protozoa, worms, and detritus. Like most crustaceans, these tiny shrimp can only mate while females are molting and between their old, hard exoskeleton and the forming of their new one. When I first saw one, I likened them to Praying Mantis. They do look like their terrestrial cousin, and after I learned of their mating behaviors, I was even more convinced. After mating females brood their fertilized eggs until the young are ready to hatch. This is one of the downers for males, after some species mate, females have been known to kill males by injecting venom from a claw…Knowing things like this allow human males to truly appreciate their place in evolutionary history.
We see skeleton shrimp on our trips to Raja Ampat. Though they are found throughout the coral triangle, Their preferred soft corals tend to be shallower in Raja Ampat, making them more available to snorkelers.