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What are Pistol Shrimps?

pistol shrimp

Have you ever heard about Pistol Shrimps before? We’re here to tell you all about them!

Our planet is a combination of land and water bodies spread over the entire face of Earth. Humans are inquisitive creatures interested in learning about hidden treasures and related phenomena, be it in the depths of oceans or the layers of sediment deep below the ground. 

pistol shrimp

The body of knowledge which exists today is the result of years of exploration, study, and experimentation to identify, classify and understand different classes and species living in varied habitats on Earth. 

Out of all the probing and investigation, the most fascinating yet limitedly explored domain is that of seas and oceans which in many ways remain a secret underwater life. There are evident difficulties concerning the study of oceanic creatures, owing to the absence of oxygen supply, depth of the sea, and other various issues of technical nature. 

Despite the ordeal, we have thus far been successful in learning about a number of enthralling creatures exhibiting astonishing behaviors and adaptations – a treat to understand and take part of.

Pistol Shrimps are one such interesting species, which we will now be discussing in detail. 

You might also like: Deepst Fish Ever.

Taxonomic Order: How Do Biologists Classify Pistol Shrimps?

In biology, it is the norm to classify and group animals based on their similarities and differences with other organisms. This grading serves as the basis for the hierarchy developed to learn about morphology and classification.

Common NamesSnapping shrimp, Alpheid shrimp.

To date, around 600 varied species of pistol shrimps are present on the planet. In order to ease understanding, the species have been amassed in more than 38 genera. Out of all these, the genus Synalpheus and genus Alpheus are the most famous and well-known, with the prior genus having just about 100 species and the latter covering up to 250 prevalent species. 

The Biggest Challenge Faced by Pistol Shrimps

It is an established fact that Pistol Shrimps struggle with poor eyesight or blindness, putting them at greater risk of encountering dangers and menacing predators. In order to compensate for this lifelong weakness, the shrimps have developed a relationship with a ray-finned fish known as goby. 

The two share a deep burrow as their mutual home, where goby helps the shrimp to identify and beware of threats. In return, the shrimp is responsible for providing food for both. In extreme cases of limited food supply, the shrimp can even survive on the excretions of the fish.

Main Attributes: The Fastest Gun in the Sea

Pistol shrimps earn their characteristic name from a very peculiar attribute, making them very interesting and worth studying. Structurally they are provided with two claws, one conventional and one hammer-like.

When the pistol shrimps are hunting their prey, they create a movement with the clasping of hammer claws making a snapping motion. This activity leads to the swift production of a pressurized and high-speed bubble.

The main purpose of this bubble is to shock the prey, which it is definitely capable of as its speed measures up to 62 mph. Impressively, the temperature of the water bubble is around 4700 degrees Celsius, equivalent to that of the sun, albeit for a very short time.

After the prey is stunned by the heat shock, the animal is in for another surprise. Once the bubble pops, or implodes rather, it creates a blasting noise which is recorded at 216 decibels. This intensity measurement surpasses the level of a gunshot and even the sound produced by a jet plane.

The entire process described above involves the snapping of claws leading to the production and explosive bursting of the bubble produced – all in mere 300 microseconds. Sonoluminescence is the name of this exciting phenomenon.

Now the question arises of how such a quick process could be decoded and studied, so the answer is with the help of multiple high-speed cameras capturing varied angles.

Pistol shrimps are exemplary in protecting their own selves and staying away from predators. Despite that, there is always a possibility of accidental damage to the pistol arm. When other animals face a similar scenario, it would either mean permanent deformity or fatality. But not in the case of pistol shrimps, as they have a great metamorphic mechanism where they plainly reform their left claw as a pistol claw while the damaged stump develops into a regular claw. 

Learn more about their attacking tactics here.


Pistol shrimps are scavengers, meaning they are organisms that derive their nutrition from decomposing biomass. It could be rotting meat or plant material. They are also primarily detritus feeders or detritivores, meaning living off the excreta of other creatures. Besides the pre-mentioned food choices, the pistol shrimp also accepts meaty foods such as scallops, mussels, mysis shrimps, brine shrimps, and even pellet foods.

The Life Span of Pistol Shrimps

If they can thrive in their natural environment and wild habitat, they can happily live up to 4 years. But similar creatures experience a shrinkage in their life expectancy by half if held in captivity, leaving them with a life of around two years.

Hunting Mechanism of Pistol Shrimps

Pistol shrimp has a distinctly strange course of action when hunting is concerned. As discussed earlier, they battle with poor vision. But on the other hand, nature also granted them dynamic hunting equipment. Their claws are the most potent aid in helping them attain their food. 

Owing to the reasons mentioned above, these shrimps prefer remaining concealed and out of sight in their burrows. Here they can keep a close watch on prey passing by the cave so that they can attack and then later ingest them. 

When they sense a prey nearby, the pistol shrimps put their pincers to work by clicking it like a pistol. This produces a strong water bubble that ultimately hits the prey with a great magnitude, eventually killing it. 

Who are the Common Predators of Pistol Shrimp?

There’s few common predators of the pistol shrimp. They include large predatory wrasses, groupers, lionfish, trigger, and hawkfish.

Distinct Behaviors

Pistol Shrimps are not anti-social animals; hence they often form communities consisting of more than 300 shrimps. Interestingly the shrimp colonies consist of a single queen having only one mate. The colonies predominantly constitute of male shrimps that serve the role of soldiers.

The scientists who have a keen interest in pistol shrimp have declared them as erratic and crazy, majorly owing to their emotional nature. There’s documentation of them attacking puffer fish or even going to the lengths of damaging the shell of an unwary crab. Many deem them disputatious, generally involved with quarrels when compared to the innocent, gentle sea shrimps.

Observations conclude that the male pistol shrimps are more vigorously aggressive as compared to their female counterparts. It is also a common belief that the size of a male’s pincer is directly related to its aggressiveness; the bigger the pincer, the more hostile the creature.

Where Can Pistol Shrimps Reside?

Pistol shrimps mostly reside happily in oyster reefs, coral reefs, as well as seagrass flats. They can live in both freshwater and seawater.

These shrimps are dispersed across the Continent of America, particularly in the state of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. According to studies, they prefer warm waters particularly; hence they frequent Brazil’s Caribbean Sea. 

How Do They Breed and Reproduce?

It is evident that all aspects concerning the pistol shrimp are very unique and mesmerizing, and its reproduction mechanism is no exception. After the initiation of the reproductive and mating process the molting phase of female shrimps follows, where they shed their exoskeletons. The two processes must align in time so that the skin of the female is soft and accessible. 

In a few species, the male shrimp awaits and searches for the female counterparts around the molting phase. But in other species, it is not unusual for shrimps of the opposite sex to live together in the same burrow and mate when ready for it. 

One noticeable aspect of this entire process is the physical vulnerability of the female shrimp owing to the lack of an exoskeleton, making it an easy meal for predators. Being in that weak state, the male pistol shrimp provides safety and guards her.

After the mating process ceremoniously begins and both shrimps are ready, they start by entwining. It is only a matter of seconds during which they copulate. Followed by the completion of coupling, the shrimps remain interlaced for hours or even days in some cases.

This is followed by a stage where the female shrimp lays around fifteen thousand (15,000) eggs that wait to be fertilized by the sperm in a specialized organ, known as the breeding chamber, found at the rear end of her tail. In some species the female shrimp lays eggs in the water to let them develop independently.

Types of Pistol Shrimp

Pistol shrimp is an umbrella term, it includes a number of subforms or basal species that constitute this family. Discussed below are some of its types:

#1 Tiger Pistol Shrimp (Alpheus Bellulus)

One of the most common types of pistol shrimp go by the name of “tiger pistol shrimp.” It is also the most commonly available shrimp variety in stores available for consumption. 

The entire body of these shrimps has either spots or smears of various colors, commonly hues of off-white, red, and brown, with marked stripy dark bands on the legs and claws. They can attain maximum lengths of approximately 3 inches upon maturity.

#2 Randall’s Pistol Shrimp (Alpheus Randalli)

Another type of Pistol Shrimp is called Randall’s pistol shrimp, also known by the common names of “Candy Cane” or “Red-Banded Pistol Shrimp.” The common names given to this type are because of the beautiful combination of colored stripes of alternating white and bright red bands.

In some cases, the shrimps could also have bright yellow-colored bodies. Randall’s pistol shrimp is also one of the commonly available varieties. They can attain maximum lengths of approximately 1.5 inches upon maturity.

#3 Red Caribbean Pistol Shrimp (Alpheus Sp.)

Most of the shrimp varieties share similar features hence posing a challenge for exact species identification. In the case of the Red Caribbean Pistol Shrimp, the identifiers include the presence of purple hues on the body along with banded antennas. 

Additionally, this particular type of pistol shrimps do not have a symbiotic relationship with gobies. Instead, they live in close proximity with a common Caribbean anemone referred to as Curlicue Anemone or Bartholomea annulata.

#4 Green Pistol Shrimp (Alpheus Euphrosyne)

Another type of pistol shrimp, known by the name Green Pistol Shrimp, is one of the under-emphasized species. They can be easily spotted owing to their distinct color combinations ranging from brown to olive green, allowing them to blend in with their environment. 

They are found in muddy estuaries located at the entry points of rivers, most commonly in saltwater. However, some of these prefer saline waters near the bays.

#5 Pocillopora Pistol Shrimp (Alpheus Lottini)

The type of pistol shrimp known by the name of Pocillopora Pistol Shrimp is very captivating and a scarce species. They are slightly different in functioning from other fellow pistol shrimps. You can easily spot them, owing to their colored bodies in a combination of yellow and orange with purple stripes.

 As the name suggests, these shrimps live in stony corals named pocillopora, sharing the habitat with other creatures like trapezia crabs. Like with the Goby, these crabs form a symbiotic relationship with the shrimps by providing protection from predators like coral-eating starfish varieties, either Cushion Stars or Crown Of Thorn Stars. They can attain maximum lengths of approximately 2 inches upon maturity.

#6 Bullseye Pistol Shrimp (Alpheus soror)

Apparently, the most extraordinary and beautiful-looking shrimps belong to a species called Bullseye Pistol Shrimp. Their body is colored in bright yellow and orange hues with a tinge of beautiful beaming purple enhancing the claws, legs, and antennae. 

Despite the fact they are sometimes referred to as Michael’s Pistol Shrimp, their name comes from the characteristic black spot on the back of the shrimp’s body resembling that of a bullseye. These shrimps are particularly known to be independent and active on their own without much reliance on the gobies. 

Interaction with Humans

Human beings have been known for ages to enjoy shrimp as their favorite seafood. The characteristic claw snapping has not been recorded to harm or kill any humans to date. 

The only way shrimps have been known to be fatal for humans is through anaphylactic shock in the case of allergy, having an extreme reaction after coming in contact with them. In rare cases, people can also choke on shrimp and face adverse circumstances.

Shrimps are an important part of the human diet owing to the promising researched health benefits associated with them. These include folic acid, Vitamin E, and Vitamin B12-rich food. It is an energy-rich source of necessary nutrition for pregnant women, developing fetuses, growing children, and the elderly.

Wrapping Up on Pistol Shrimps

The adaptation, evolution, and mechanisms exhibited by the pistol shrimp are very attractive and distinct from other fellow sea creatures. These make them a species that is definitely out of the ordinary, building the interest of researchers and marine biologists to uncover the fascinating phenomena of their hunting method.

To hunt their prey, they produce water bubbles that explode with a blasting noise. Owing to this characteristic, they are not very safe creatures to be kept in the aquarium as they are very well capable of shattering the glass and posing the risk of harm. 

To conclude, the evolutionary adaptation and distinct behaviors associated with the pistol shrimp have helped the organism survive the ocean’s wild environment for centuries.

Thank you for reading this article! To uncover more mysteries below the water’s surface take a look at the equally perplexing Lumpfish.