Ask the Aquarium – Banded Coral Shrimp


Q. We were using dip nets over a rocky area close to shore and caught what looked like a shrimp, but it didn’t look like any shrimp we’d ever seen before. It had white and red stripes and was much smaller than regular shrimp. We threw it back. Any idea what it was?

A. There are many kinds of shrimp and your description fits a banded coral shrimp, a type of cleaner shrimp.

BandedCoralShrimp 5x5 300 J. Rudolph

Some marine creatures, like this banded coral shrimp, are considered “cleaners” because they supplement their diets by cleaning parasites from other animals.

This candy-colored crustacean lives in reef and rocky areas. It uses its small claws to remove parasites from fishes that come to these areas to feed, rest, or sometimes specifically to get cleaned of irritating, parasitic hitchhikers. Such areas are sometimes referred to as “cleaning stations.” The little banded shrimp will also clean damaged tissue around injuries.

The coral shrimp’s colorful white body and red-striped claws, which are sometimes bordered in purple, earned it names such as banded boxer, barber pole and bandanna prawn. It has two pair of long, white hair-like antennae and walking legs, and some parts of its body are translucent. One pair of legs has larger claws that break off easily but can be regenerated.

Compared to commercial shrimp, which can measure 6, 8 or even as much as 11 inches in length, the banded coral shrimp is much smaller – usually 2-5 inches long depending on species. It prefers warm waters and can be found at depths of 3 to 130 feet.

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.

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.