Everyone knows the harlequin shrimp (Hymenocera elegans or H. pictus). It is one of the most ornate invertebrates on the planet and has the somewhat ghoulish habit of slowly eating sea stars. But do you know about the harlequin’s kin, Phyllognathia ceratophthalma (both shrimps are in the family Hymenoceridae).
This odd shrimp, which is known in the aquarium trade as the Bongo bumblebee shrimp or the spiny tiger shrimp, is rarely seen in the wild or in the aquarium trade. I have only seen three of these shrimp during years of diving in locations where they are known to occur (the Western Pacific from Okinawa south to Queensland, Australia). This is because it is very small, reaching a maximum length of around 2.5 cm, and very cryptic. Like Hymenocera, it also does not appear to be a very common creature. Because of these factors, very little else is known about this shrimp species.
In steps Kevin Kohen, livestock manager of www.liveaquaria.com. Kevin is one of the most knowledgeable guys in this industry and has been a great help to me (he has assisted my efforts so much that I dedicated REEF FISHES Volume 5 to him and two other labrid lovers). He is not only astute, but he is still hardcore crazy about fishes and inverts, even after decades of being in the hobby. If he has access to something unusual, it is just as likely to go in one of his office tanks (if he has room) as onto the website for sale.
Kevin has been keeping specimens of P. ceratophthalma for several months now and has observed some very interesting things about its natural history. Up until now, data on the feeding habits of this little crustacean were not available. It has been assumed that they are echinoderm-eaters only because of their relationship with Hymenocera, but I have not found any direct observations of their food habits published in the literature. Thanks to Kevin, we now know that they eat asteroid sea stars as well as ophuroids! Don’t believe me, check out Kevin’s video at the link below.
Kevin's Bongo Bumblebee shrimp video (click here)
Here is what Kevin reports on his captive P. ceratophthalma:
“Well it turns out that this little guy loves to kill and eat mini white brittle sea stars. They are now going after tiny blue Asterina sea stars as well and are using their claws to pry them over from a flat bottomed specimen container. The behavior of the crustacean is very similar to Hymenocera elegans. It seems to use its two front spike like maxillipeds to constantly pierce the sea star until it surrenders, then starts consuming the brittle legs and all.”
If you have had any experience with this shrimp I would be eager to hear your stories!