Saltwater Aquarium Blog

Skunk cleaner shrimp reef aquarium care guide

While the name, skunk cleaner shrimp might sound like one of the smelliest and least interesting things you could add to your tank, I can assure you, there is nothing ordinary…or smelly…about them.

I think the Skunk Cleaner Shrimp Association of America should take out a marketing campaign to re-brand these amazing invertebrates because their name doesn’t do them justice.

They don’t look or smell like this:

They are gorgeous. Take a look:

or maybe I should just start using either the Latin/scientific name or one of the other less common, common names like lysmata amboinensis, is also commonly known as the scarlet skunk cleaner shrimp, ornamental cleaner shrimp, or white stripped cleaner shrimp.

Isn’t it interesting, though, that any animal with a dorsal white stripe is a skunk?

What you will find in this article

Caring for the skunk cleaner shrimp in a  reef aquarium

Since the cleaner shrimp is naturally a reef invertebrate, it needs are nearly the same as most reef species; a temperature between 72 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit, a dKH of 8-12, pH between  8.1 and 8.4, and specific gravity between 1.023 and 1.025. Like all shrimps, specific gravity is especially important, as these shrimps cannot tolerate as wide a range of salinity as most fish. Owners who are lax about monitoring levels, or aquarium setups prone to swings in parameters may not do well with a skunk cleaner shrimp or any crustaceans for that matter.

Native to the Indo-pacific reefs, this charming shrimp is well known by all the reef’s inhabitants. With its yellow body, bright red and white stripes, and long, stark white antennae, this shrimp is a walking advertisement for its fish scrubbing service, and fish happily seek out this shrimp for a cleaning.

Its behavior on the reef works like a car wash; fish swim to the shrimp’s cleaning station, then the skunk cleaner shrimp climbs on to the fish and works it all over, picking off any parasites or tissue hanging on the fish, and will even clean inside the mouths of larger fish.

Why provide this service? It’s an easy meal, for one.

Also, in exchange for this cleaning, fish generally do not prey on the skunk cleaner shrimp, although it would make an easy meal; its service has earned it virtual immunity from the food chain on the reef. The skunk cleaner shrimp and its fish customers make up one of the most iconic examples of symbiosis on the reef, and in the whole animal kingdom, for that matter. And this is one of a few amazing symbiotic relationships that you can easily keep and observe in your home aquarium. 



A long-lived invertebrate, a skunk cleaner fish may live three years or more. 


When you first bring home a skunk cleaner shrimp, you will need to be very careful to slowly acclimate the shrimp to the conditions of your aquarium. Skunk cleaner shrimp are very susceptible to shock, so it is recommended that the shrimp be acclimated very slowly by the drip acclimation technique, and this should be executed over the course of an hour or longer. 

Reef safe?

They are certainly reef safe. While they have been known to occasionally nip at corals, this is very rare in this particular species. Unlike other reef aquarium species that can be aggressive and territorial when kept with other members of the same (or similar) species, you can certainly keep more than one skunk cleaner shrimp in your tank, as long as you provide sufficient food.

Cleaner shrimps are NOT COMPATIBLE (sorry, I didn’meannt to shout that) with fish species that eat shrimps. So no hawkfish, pufferfish, flame angelfish (I found that out the hard way).

Reasons to add a skunk cleaner shrimp to your tank

You could certainly have a reef aquarium without adding a skunk cleaner shrimp, but there are a few reasons to add a skunk cleaner shrimp to your tank today:

  1. They are amazingly delicate, graceful, beautiful creatures
  2. It is fun to observe the cleaner behavior in your tank
  3. Might help ease aggression in the tank

Larval development

Starting from an egg, the immature skunk cleaner shrimp subsequently goes through fourteen unique larval stages before assuming an adult form. At each stage, the developing larvae feed on different food sources provided by the natural ocean habitat- a difficult environment to recreate in captivity. But even then, it’s transformations are not complete. All skunk cleaner shrimp are male. That is, they all start out as male. Over the course of several molts as an adult form, the skunk cleaner shrimp eventually becomes a hermaphrodite in its most mature state. This complex development means you aren’t likely to be successful breeding skunk cleaner shrimp at home.

For more information

A handy reference for learning about the lifecycle of shrimp is:

How to raise & train your peppermint shrimp

Yes, I know, that’s a totally different species, but it’s full of good information. You  might also want to read about a few of the other great shrimp available in the reef aquarium hobby:

Fire shrimp

Pistol shrimp

Coral banded

Harlequin shrimp


skunk cleaner shrimp care guide


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