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Magic Aquarium Creatures—Harlequin Shrimps on Debut in New Clothes

  • PostDate:2020-08-07

Taiwan’s ornamental fish and shrimp aquaculture is unrivaled in the world. The Fisheries Research Institute, Council of Agriculture, Executive Yuan has successfully bred harlequin shrimp (Hymenocera picta) with indigo and cobalt blue patches by utilizing the established techniques of mass production and strain hybridization of ornamental shrimp, thus, offering aquarium lovers more options, in addition to the original strains with purple and brown patches, and adding a new force to Taiwan’s ornamental marine shrimp market.

The Fisheries Research Institute has indicated that ornamental aquariums are currently the third largest pet market after dogs and cats. According to the statistics of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the output value of the global ornamental aquarium industry is about USD 15 billion to USD 20 billion, which offers huge business opportunities. As the output value of Taiwan’s ornamental shrimp industry is more than NTD 200 million every year, it makes an outstanding contribution to the economy due to its powerful strength. In recent years, the aquarium market is developing towards refinement, ecologization, and miniaturization. With their bright body colors, and unique and lovely appearance, these exquisite and lovely ornamental marine shrimps have gradually come to play a leading role in small aquarium tanks, and their special ecological functions of removing organic debris, algae, and parasites means the demand for them steadily increases.  

The Fisheries Research Institute has explained that the harlequin shrimp is a type of ornamental shrimp with a special feeding habit, as it takes the starfish as its food and is the nemesis of starfish in nature. Its body surface is as bright as polished wax, its entire body is off-white with colored patches, and its chelicerae are swollen and flat. When it is still, it looks like a blooming flower, and when it swings its chelicerae, it looks like a vigorous boxer in a challenge arena. While it looks funny and beautiful, its magic is its healing effect. Unfortunately, because of this healing effect, it is exposed to excessive fishing, which has resulted in a decreasing number of the natural population and affecting the ecological balance.

The patches on the body surface of harlequin shrimps are quite different in color. The groups distributed in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean have purple patches with yellow edges, while those in the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific Ocean are brown with blue edges. However, after many attempts with the established techniques of mass production and strain hybridization, the Fisheries Research Institute has successfully bred lines with indigo patches. In addition, the Institute has further bred harlequin shrimp with cobalt blue patches, and because it looks like a beautiful orchid with bright colors blooming in the sea, it was named “butterfly blue” by the researchers.

Due to the researchers’ irrigation and value-adding efforts, the simple seeds of aquatic organisms have successively produced beautiful flowers, and with their colorful coats, these exquisite and lovely water elves are very attractive. The Fisheries Research Institute is actively developing  technology regarding the stable mass production of 「butterfly blue」 harlequin shrimps, and hope to further activate the ornamental marine organism market, reduce the capture of wild resources, and create a win-win opportunity for production and ecology.


Penghu Marine Biology Research Center, Fisheries Research Institute, Council of Agriculture, Executive Yuan

Contact: Director Hern-Yi Hsieh

Tel: (06)995-3416 Ext. 120

Contributor: Associate Researcher, Cheng-Jen Cheng 

Tel: (06)995-3416 Ext. 235

Figure 1. Colorful harlequin shrimps are the most eye-catching creatures in the aquarium tank.

Figure 2. “Butterfly blue” harlequin shrimps with new clothes in cobalt blue (left) and indigo (right)