Sexy Shrimp (Thor amboinensis)

There is just no way I could pass up writing about this animal. I mean, why is it called the sexy shrimp? I’ve been trying to figure it out but haven’t managed to find anything about it yet. Who thought, when diving in the ocean, ‘Oooh that is one sexy little shrimp’? Seriously, what a strangely named creature.

Sexy shrimp live in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and are usually found around Florida, the Caribbean Sea, the west coast of Africa, and around China and Taiwan. They live in anemones, with usually one or two shrimp per anemone, though up to eighteen have been found on a single anemone.

A sexy shrimp chilling inside its anemone.  Photo source: Wikipedia

A sexy shrimp chilling inside its anemone.
Photo source: Wikipedia

They are very small shrimp, growing up to thirteen millimetres. They are brown or olive coloured, with white bonds bordered by blue lines covering their bodies. This colouring makes them kind of pretty, I guess, but I still wouldn’t call them sexy. Then again, I’m not sure I’d call any shrimp sexy. Perhaps they are called sexy shrimp because when they are at rest, their tails arch towards the head, forming a somewhat sexy pose?

Another possible reason they are called sexy shrimp is that these shrimp can change gender during their life. The shrimp start out as male and can switch to being female when the time is right. Male shrimp spend their days searching for females, and when he finds one, the pair copulate with no ceremony. Once the eggs are laid, the female carries them until hatching. She takes good care of them, cleaning off any debris and keeping the eggs constantly aerated.

A pair of sexy shrimp holding their tails in the characteristic 'sexy' position.  Source: http://www.reef-guardian.com/thor-amboinensis-12-detritivore.html

A pair of sexy shrimp holding their tails in the characteristic ‘sexy’ position.
Source: http://www.reef-guardian.com/thor-amboinensis-12-detritivore.html

Sexy shrimp benefit hugely from living inside their anemone hosts. They are super tiny, and don’t have a lot of defensive measures. Without their anemone to protect them, the  sexy shrimp would be gobbled right up by a whole slew of predators. It does take a while for the shrimp to acclimate to the anemone’s tentacles. How specifically is does this is unclear; some studies suggest that the shrimp collects the anemone’s mucus which disguises the shrimp, while others say the shrimp produces chemicals that neutralize the anemone’s stings. Whatever the case, it’s clearly a good strategy for the shrimp. So what does the anemone get out of it? Well, the shrimp feeds off the anemone, cleaning it of any debris and gunk. Sounds like a reasonably fair trade to me.

While writing this I came across an entry from liveaquaria.com that offered a possible explanation of the shrimp’s name: apparently the shrimp moves its body back and forth in a sexy manner. So I guess that mystery is solved. Still a great name though.

Cover image source: http://www.animali.net/images/ThorAmboinensis.jpg

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