Ask the Aquarium: What do shrimp eat?


Ask the Aquarium

Q. What do shrimp eat?

A. Shrimp are omnivores and scavengers, meaning they eat most anything.

Like lobsters, crayfish and crabs, shrimp are crustaceans with segmented bodies, jointed legs, eyes on stalks and hard exteriors. All crustaceans must molt to grow, and some, like shrimp, even eat their discarded calcium- rich shell.

There are many species of shrimp. Some live thousands of feet under the ocean on thermal vents. Others, like the ones we’re more familiar with, live in waters from low tide to about 300 feet deep. Along the East Coast, pink, brown and white shrimp are harvested and sold commercially. These familiar varieties belong to the Penaeidae family.

A shrimp’s body has a relatively short upper segment containing vital organs. The remaining two-thirds consist of an abdomen and fan-like tail. Swimmerets on the abdomen enable the shrimp to walk and swim forward, and a flip of the tail sends it shooting backward. Females grow larger than males.

Shrimp spawn in the ocean where the new hatchlings bob about as free-floating oceanic zooplankton. When the weather warms, they move into shallow marshes and estuaries where food is more plentiful. The young grow quickly, doubling in size every few weeks. When almost full grown, they leave the estuaries and return to the ocean. On average, shrimp live about two years.

Populations of this favorite seafood vary each year, depending on weather. Commercial shrimping is a valuable and highly regulated industry. In 2012, 6.1 million pounds were harvested in North Carolina, valued at 13.2 million. Shrimp require healthy estuarine waters of bays, sounds and marshes to survive. Protection of these nursery areas is of critical importance to the industry.

Discover more fascinating facts about North Carolina’s aquatic environments and inhabitants by visiting the aquariums on Roanoke Island, at Fort Fisher and at Pine Knoll Shores, or Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head.

On average, shrimp live about two years. Because of such a short life span, they are considered an annual seafood crop in North Carolina.

On average, shrimp live about two years. Because of such a short life span, they are considered an annual seafood crop in North Carolina.

Information provided by the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. The state operates three public aquariums; one in Pine Knoll Shores, another at Fort Fisher and a third on Roanoke Island, as well as Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head.The facilities are administered by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources and are designed to inspire appreciation and conservation of North Carolina’s aquatic environments. For more information, log onto, or call 800-832-FISH.