Back to Top
13, Jan, 2014

Harlequin Shrimps are a species of saltwater swimming, decapod crustaceans. Their scientific classification name is Hymenocera picta. Harlequin Shrimps are the only species in the genus Hymenocera.

Harlequin Shrimps are beautiful creatures. Their shape is what makes them so distinctive. They look more like a blossoming flower than a shrimp. At Scubafish, we get very excited when we encounter them, as they are very rare.

Harlequin Shrimps - Hymenocera picta - Feeding


Interesting facts about Harlequin Shrimps

Harlequin Shrimps usually spend their whole life with one partner and together they hunt and defend their homes. Harlequin Shrimps are typically found in tropical waters, where they live on and around coral reefs. They are a relatively shy shrimp, preferring to stay in enclosed, small, dark areas. They also tend to stay in the same spot.Harlequin Shrimps – Macro - by Magnus Larsson

Harlequin Shrimps are very particular about what they eat. They have a unique diet; they only feed on starfish, including the Crown-of-Thorns starfish. However, there have been some rare reported instances of them preying on sea urchins. Harlequin Shrimps detect their prey using their sense of smell. The Harlequin Shrimps have ‘petal-like sensory antennules’ to smell out their prey. They locate a starfish and prize it from a rock or a reef. The male and female shrimp work as a team, to turn over the starfish and disable it. It is amazing how such small creatures can do this! They are then able to feed on the starfish’s delicate tube feet, starting at the tips and working inwards. The Harlequin Shrimps then take the starfish into there dark recess, where they can continue to feed on them for several days.

Extraordinary facts! ….. Harlequin Shrimps even feed their starfish prey, keeping them alive, so that they can feast on them at a later date! They have been known to hunt starfish that are one hundred times their own weight and size!Harlequin Shrimp - with soft coral - by Magnus Larsson

Harlequin Shrimps are white, with patches of yellow and brown. The brown patches have a blue edge to them.
Their colourful exterior shell serves as a warning to possible predators. It is thought that Harlequin Shrimps ingest toxins from their prey, making them distasteful or potentially dangerous for any prospective predators.

Their body grows to about 5cms (2 inches). The females are larger than the males and have coloured abdominal shells, unlike the males, which have white abdominal shells.
The Harlequin Shrimp moves slowly and waves it’s two large pincers and moves it’s claws almost constantly, even when stationary.
Like other crustaceans, Harlequin Shrimps have hard shells, called exoskeletons, but their shell is much thinner than that of other crustaceans.

Harlequin Shrimps mate shortly after the females’ moult (shedding of her shell). The female produces between 100 and 5,000 eggs per season, depending on environmental factors. She will tend and clean the eggs until they hatch. Mating for life, a monogamous Harlequin Shrimp pair will become territorial.
Harlequin Shrimps are rare and suffer as a result of coral reef damage and the Aquarium trade.

Harlequin Shrimps – Hymenocera picta - Feasting


Techniques and ideas when photographing Harlequin Shrimps

  • An encounter with Harlequin Shrimps is down to chance and will make for a stunning Macro image
  • Most of the time Harlequin Shrimps will be tucked away, in a crevice. It is important as a photographer to respect these shy retiring little creatures and not harass these beautiful shrimps, just to get the perfect shot. If they are not in the right position, try coming back to them later in the dive, or perhaps on another occasion
  • Don’t crowd your subject, approach them slowly and don’t scare or startle them
  • Never surround your subject, don’t chase after them and don’t ever touch them
  • Be careful when positioning yourself to take a photograph. Breaking corals or disturbing the environment is not an option. Be aware of your surroundings at all times and keep your body away from the reef
  • When you photograph Harlequin Shrimps, be very careful not to overexpose them. Harlequin Shrimps are mostly white and they can be easily overexposed. If you are happy with your image, but your settings overexpose the white, try turning your exposure compensation (also known as your EV) down a little. When shooting using manual settings, bracketing is a good technique to use, to ensure you capture a correctly exposed image. When using stobes, try reducing their power setting and make sure you are using your diffusers. These will help create more even, softer lighting
  • Using strobes or a camera’s internal flash, can help to create shadows and bring out textures, adding contrast to your photograph
  • Carefully compose the image, the photograph should be sharp and in focus
  • Try a few different compositions


Harlequin Shrimp - by Magnus Larsson

For other useful underwater photographc techniques, visit our Shot Type Tips and Tips and Tricks pages for inspiration and to help you get the most out of your underwater camera system.

If you’d like to learn more…… Liquid Lense at Scubafish offer a range of Underwater Photography and Videography courses. We have beginner courses, up to professional-level courses.

All images are taken at the dive sites around Ko Lanta, by professional Liquid Lense Underwater Digital Imaging Specialists.

Harlequin Shrimps - by Natasha Lambelin



Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: