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by Shaun M. Moss, Ph.D. director, Shrimp Department, Oceanic Institute

The marine aquarium industry relies almost exclusively on wild-caught fish and invertebrates to meet market demands of aquarium hobbyists. For the industry to expand, appropriate technologies are needed to culture desirable organisms in captivity in order to minimize the dependence on wild stocks and provide hobbyists with a reliable supply of healthy specimens at low cost.

The harlequin shrimp, Hymenocera picta, is popular among saltwater aquarists because of its physical beauty. Unfortunately, almost all harlequin shrimp sold in pet shops around the world are collected from shallow tropical waters of the Pacific Ocean, including Hawai‘i. Collecting harlequin shrimp from the wild is not a sustainable, long-term strategy and there may be collateral damage to coral reefs associated with this practice. However, there is a paucity of published information about the captive reproduction and husbandry of these valuable aquarium shrimp, so the collection of wild shrimp likely will occur in the future.

Research on Shrimp Larval Rearing
With funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Center for Tropical and Subtropical Aquaculture (CTSA), HPU graduate student, Danielle McKay, is developing aquaculture protocols for the spawning and larval rearing of harlequin shrimp, using facilities at Oceanic Institute (OI).

Currently, Danielle is maintaining four pairs of adult shrimp which spawn at about 18-day intervals. With each spawn, several hundred to several thousand baby shrimp (larvae) are produced and each larva is about 525 microns in length, or about 0.02 inches. For her master’s research, Danielle will provide the larvae with different live prey diets to determine which diet supports the greatest larval survival. Results from her work will contribute to a greater understanding of the larval biology and captive reproduction of harlequin shrimp.

Developing Diets for Adult Shrimp
A significant obstacle to rearing harlequin shrimp in captivity is the restricted diet of juveniles and adults. Based on limited published literature, it appears that harlequin shrimp feed almost exclusively on a diet of live starfish. These shrimp have large, shovel-like appendages (known as second chilipeds) which are used to scoop up and flip starfish upside down. Once the starfish are turned over, the harlequin shrimp feed on the exposed “tube feet” of the starfish. Anecdotal reports suggest that harlequin shrimp also may feed on live brittle stars and sea urchins in a similar manner, although there are no published reports to confirm these claims. In an effort to identify alternative diets for adult harlequin shrimp, OI researchers will conduct feeding trials to evaluate live and processed starfish, and other potential echinoderm prey items, as potential diets for harlequin shrimp. Shrimp growth and survival will be monitored over time to assess the benefits of each diet. In addition, biochemical analyses will be conducted on the different diets to assess the nutritional value of each diet and to identify critical nutrients. Importantly, information from these feeding trials will be used to formulate and process artificial diets for the harlequin shrimp. If an artificial diet can be produced to wholly or partially replace live starfish, then the economic burden of maintaining live prey is reduced for the producer or aquarium hobbyist, and the environmental and ecological impacts of collecting live starfish are eliminated.





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