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Pistol Shrimp & Goby Mutualism

Pistol ShrimpBrandon here. Some of my favorite saltwater organisms are the pistol shrimp. There are several hundred species of these shrimp found throughout the world. They are not only found in tropical reefs but closer to home. I have heard these little guys snapping away in muddy areas right offshore in Virginia. Despite the characteristic that gives these creatures their name, snapping shrimp are usually peaceful little critters and interesting additions to a reef tank.

Pistol shrimps belong to the family Alpheidae. They are characterized by their one large claw responsible for the snapping sound they produce. These shrimp are usually known for their mutualistic relationship with certain gobies. The shrimp will dig and tend to a burrow in a sandy or muddy substrate while the goby stands guard at the entrance, watching for prey and predators. The shrimp will even close the entrance to the burrow at night to keep predators out. There are also colonial species of shrimp that live in sponges, somewhat like ants in an anthill.

What makes pistol shrimp fascinating is their enlarged claw. The closing of the claw in itself does not produce the snapping sound. Rather there is a groove in the claw which channels water out as it closes. The water is forced out at around 60 miles per hour. This speed produces an area of low pressure and forms a bubble. When the bubble collapses, intense sound, heat, and even light are produced. This is where the snapping sound that we hear comes from. Temperatures of about 5000 degrees Kelvin, or about 8500 degrees Fahrenheit, can be reached. This blast of pressure is enough to kill small fish and invertebrates. The snapping shrimp is considered one of the loudest creatures in the ocean, and large colonies of them are loud enough to white out the sonar of submarines.

To give you a better idea of what this all looks like (or just to see a shrimp get blasted) watch this video:

Until next time,


  1. avatar

    I have had a watchman goby for about 4 months and I just purchased a Pistol shrimp and was wondering how long before they bond together.

  2. avatar

    Thanks for your comment John. The amount of time it will take them to pair up really depends on the shrimp and goby themselves. Usually they will pair up in a few days if they are compatible, but it could take several months even. There’s a chance they may not pair up at all. Just keep an eye on them, feed them well, and keep your fingers crossed.

  3. avatar

    this was facinating and i realy found out more about the pistol shrimp

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