Tiger Pistol Shrimp Care Guide | Diet, Habitat, Breeding, Accessories

Jul 8, 2021

tiger pistol shrimp care guide

A small shrimp with an unusually big claw that can move at a 97 km/hr speed – meet tiger pistol shrimp – an endless source of fascination and perhaps a muse for many in the marine aquarium hobby. 

Tiger pistol shrimps come from the Aplhidae family. There are over 600 species in the family – all equally unique and interesting but with one common characteristic – the pistol claw. 

Can You Buy Tiger Pistol Shrimp As A Pet? 

Yes, absolutely. In fact, tiger pistol shrimps are among the most popular pistol shrimp species in the aquarium hobby. These beneficial shrimps are constantly at work to move the gravel – making them superior sand stirrers in reef tanks. 

On top of that, tiger pistol shrimps are inexpensive, quite easy to take care of, peaceful, and hardy – all leading to their immense popularity in salt aquariums. 

So, if you’re thinking of getting tiger pistol shrimps for your tank, there are a handful of things you should know. They sure are low maintenance but can quickly meet tragic ends in the wrong hands. 

Introduction To Tiger Pistol Shrimp 

Tiger pistol shrimps are also known by other popular names like snapping shrimp and symbiosis shrimp. And because of their family name, they’re also sometimes referred to as alpheid shrimps. 

They’re natives of the tropical waters of the Indo-West Pacific area, such as East Asia and Sri Lanka. 

Here’s a quick glance a tiger pistol shrimps:

NameTiger Pistol Shrimp
Scientific NameAlpheus bellulus
Lifespan3-4 years
Care LevelEasy
BreedingHard
Water Temperature72-78°F (22-25°C)
pH Level8.1-8.4
Temperament Shy, Semi-aggressive
DietOmnivore (predominantly carnivore)

Tiger Pistol Shrimp Lifespan

With proper care and an adequate diet, your tiger pistol shrimp can live for 3-4 years. However, this feat can only be achieved when parameters are maintained to the T. 

These shrimps are completely intolerant of copper or nitrate. So, if your tank’s parameters aren’t maintained accordingly, your shrimp can die as soon as you bring him home. 

Tiger Pistol Shrimp Appearance

Tiger pistol shrimp
Credits: Mike Jensen under Creative Commons License

Tiger pistol shrimps have two claws – a small pincer and the infamous snapper. The snapper, which grows as big as half the length of the shrimp’s body, doesn’t have two symmetrical halves like the pincer. 

Instead, it has two parts called propus (immobile) and dactyl (mobile). Dactyl consists of a plunger that exactly fits into the socket. 

Tiger pistol shrimp can open the dactyl by co-contracting the muscles, which will build tension until another closer muscle contracts, setting the whole thing to release a powerful shockwave. 

 The banded legs are the same color as the body and are covered with soft bristles. The two asymmetrical claws are also banded. 

Tiger pistol shrimps also have poor eyesight – making it challenging for them to detect prey and predators. 

Tiger Pistol Shrimp Size 

Tiger pistol shrimps will usually grow up to 4-5 centimeters – not including the antennae. Factors like the tank’s calcium and iodine level can impact your shrimp’s growth rate and molting process. 

When purchasing, you will usually have the option to choose the right size for you. 

Purchase size (Small)Less than 1 inch 
Purchase size (Medium)1 – 1 ¾ inches 
Purchase size (Large)1-1 ¾ or larger

Tiger Pistol Shrimp Color

Tiger Pistol shrimps have an opaque, yellowish-white body with patterns drawn on the abdomen, cephalothorax, and abdomen. The coloration of these patterns can vary from brownish-purple to brownish orange. The antennas are reddish orange. 

Tiger Pistol Shrimp’s Sound 

By closing its bigger claw at an extreme speed, as fast as 97 km/hr, the tiger pistol shrimp produces a loud snapping sound that’s heralded as one of the ocean’s loudest sounds. This ability is used both to communicate with fellow shrimps or as a weapon to kill prey instantly. 

The shrimp then drags the dead prey into its burrow and devours it. Besides killing the prey, this ability is also used to solid basalt rocks and make a comfortable home inside them. 

For the longest time, scientists believed that the loud snapping sound was made when the shrimp snaps its pincers together. But the truth behind it was only discovered in 2000 by a team led by Detlef Lohse. 

Reportedly, when the pincer lands on the socket, it causes the water to gush out and create a bubble at the speed of 100 km/hr. And when the bubble explodes, a loud bang is created. And this sonic wave is disastrous enough to kill a passing shrimp or a small fish in a wink. 

How Loud Is A Tiger Pistol Shrimp?

The snapping sound tiger pistol shrimps produce is 210 decibels. Just to give you an idea, the average gunshot clocks in at 150 decibels, and a lion’s roar is 114 decibels. 

During the Second World War, the Americans used pistol shrimp colonies as an acoustic sound to hide their submarines! 

Even more interesting, for a fraction of a second, the bubble’s collapse produces a heat of 8000°F – almost as hot as the sun’s surface! It’s accompanied by an odd flash of light that lasts around 300 picoseconds.

However, this force is muted by many folds in the tank because the water pressure surrounding the shrimp in the sea is a lot greater than water. Thus, in the tank, the cavitation bubble collapses with little force, producing a relatively weak shockwave.

You can hear the sound here at around 0:50 seconds:

Water Parameters For Tiger Pistol Shrimp

Temperature72-78°F (22-25°C)
pH level8-1-8.4 
Hardness (dKH)8-12
Salinity1:024-10.26
Specific Gravity (sg)1-0.23
Phosphate Level< .10 ppm
Nitrate Level< .10 ppm
Calcium Level420-440 ppm
Magnesium Level1260-1350 ppm

Maintaining Water Chemistry For Tiger Pistol Shrimps 

Like most shrimps, tiger pistols are intolerant of imbalanced water and frequent water change. Therefore, although the table above may seem too technical, it’s essential to maintain the correct alkalinity and calcium and magnesium levels. 

You can gradually raise the magnesium level up to 1400-1600 ppm while keeping calcium and alkalinity constant. This will help to keep the algae outbreak in check.

Similarly, nitrate and phosphate levels should always be maintained below .10 ppm. If the nitrate level increases above that, you should conduct a water change. Likewise, if the phosphate levels rise, it’s time to change the phosphate media. 

Since tiger pistol shrimps shed their exoskeleton, occasionally dosing supplementary iodine can ease this process. 

And like most invertebrates, these shrimps are intolerant of copper. So, make sure that you don’t use copper-based medication or cleaning supplies for the tank. 

Habitat For Tiger Pistol Shrimps

In their native habitat in the tropics, tiger pistol shrimps live in muddy, sandy, and shallow water. Thus, you should provide a smooth substrate made of either sand or coral rubble. This way, your shrimp will have no problem moving substrate and creating burrows. The substrate should be around 2 inches deep. 

Ensure the water flow generated by your filter because fine substrate may get tossed around – burying your corals. 

They’d also very much appreciate it if you added small rubble pieces to make tunnels and live rocks to hide in. 

Since the shrimp will constantly excavate and remodel for itself and its goby fish friend, you need to make sure the rocks are secured correctly in the tank to avoid mayhem. 

Light For Tiger Pistol Shrimps 

Like most shrimps, tiger pistol shrimps will avoid light. So, you don’t need to make any special lighting arrangements for them. 

You can alter the lighting arrangement based on the reef tank’s needs.

Minimum Tank Size For Tiger Pistol Shrimps 

The minimum recommended tank size for tiger pistol shrimps is 30 gallons (120 liters). However, the bigger the tank, the better it is for the inhabitants. 

These shrimps love to dig around, move gravel, and make caves in the tank. On top of that, bigger tanks reduce instances of territorial aggression. 

Here are our handpicked recommendations for accessories:

SeaClear Acrylic Aquarium Combo Set

Fluval Performance Canister 

Fluval E 50-Watt Electronic Heater

Feeding Tiger Pistol Shrimps 

Tiger pistol shrimps are omnivores, although many are inclined more towards a carnivore diet. They’re also scavengers and detritus feeders. So, they often take on the role of the tank’s janitor. You can give them live food like worms and macroalgae, flake food, and so on. 

They usually feed on smaller shrimps like scarlet skunk cleaner shrimp and other small fish in the wild. However, since pistol shrimps have formed a symbiotic relationship with gobies, the latter often brings food for the shrimp.

In captivity, they’re pretty easy to feed. You can give both chopped meaty food and fish food to your shrimp. Some options are:

  • Brine shrimp 
  • Chopped squid 
  • Sinking pellets 
  • Mysis shrimp 
  • Scallop
  • Mussels

If you’re up for amusement, place the meaty food at the entrance of the burrow and watch your shrimp drag it inside and devour.

However, whatever food you give – homemade or store-bought – make sure it doesn’t contain copper. 

Behavior Of Tiger Pistol Shrimp 

Tiger pistol shrimps have a calm demeanor, which at worst is described to be ‘semi-aggressive. They love to keep themselves – making valleys and hills out of the substrate and burrowing inside. 

For most parts, tiger pistol shrimps are shy and peaceful animals. However, it’s still not 100% safe to keep them in the same tank with smaller invertebrates and fish who’re actually their food in the wild. 

These shrimps are also nocturnal. They hide in dark and dimly lit areas of the tank at daylight – only coming out to forage at the bottom. 

Tiger pistol shrimps are also the ocean’s clean freaks. They’re constantly at work – tidying up inside and around their burrow. 

By nature, they’re socially monogamous and territorial. However, they will seldom attack anyone unless triggered. So, besides small shrimps and fish, most of your reef inhabitants should be safe. 

When needed, tiger pistol shrimps make excellent hunters. Although the eyesight is weak, they can sense the passing by threat or prey with their antennae and stun it before you know it. 

It’s noted that the snapping sound isn’t just made to stun the enemy. The snap’s frequency and the speed of water produced by the snaps are reportedly used to communicate signals as well. 

If you’re going to add fish to your tiger pistol shrimp tank, medium-sized, passive fish would be your best bet. 

How To Take Care Of Tiger Pistol Shrimp?

Although tiger pistol shrimp sound and seem very exotic, taking care of them is pretty easy. They’re a fairly hardy species. There are just a few things you need to get right, like the suitable water parameter, temperature, and space. 

For starters, you need to make sure they have plenty of space to carry on their shenanigans. Although the minimum recommended size is 30 gallons, my tiger shrimps live in a 55-gallon tank where they create valleys, dunes, caves, and tunnels. 

So, always make sure they have plenty of space. Otherwise, they may get aggressive and attack other invertebrates and fish in the tank. Even if they don’t get killed, the mighty snap will surely deal some damage. 

Also, don’t forget to ensure that all the rocks and decorations are properly secured, so they don’t collapse and injure your shrimp when he is digging the area. 

Like most shrimps, they’re quite sensitive to water changes. Thus, it’s essential to maintain the proper water parameters at all times. They’re highly intolerant of copper and nitrate but require a good amount of iodine in the water to molt. 

However, it doesn’t mean you should perform frequent water changes. They don’t take too easily to frequent water changes and may fall seriously ill. If you’re acclimatizing them to a new environment, always use the dripping system even though it takes a lot of patience. Otherwise, your shrimp may go into a shock and even die. 

Although they’re scavengers that’ll feed on detritus and leftover food, it’s still important to feed nutritious food to lengthen their lifespan. So ensure your shrimp is getting calcium and protein-rich food. 

It’s also best to fortify its diet with mineral and iodine supplements to ease the molting process. 

Tiger Pistol Shrimp Relationship With Shrimp Gobies 

tiger pistol shrimp and gobies
Credits: Andreas März under Creative Commons license

Luckily, tiger pistol shrimps can pair up effortlessly with most goby varieties without a problem. In fact, they’re often sold as a pair. However, if you only take tiger pistol shrimp home, chances are that he’ll lead a very poor, sad life. He will spend the rest of his life hiding all the time. 

Nope, not exaggerating – find out for yourself! 

Tiger pistol shrimps often share their burrow with shrimp gobies, with whom they share a mutually benefiting relationship. Since these shrimps have poor eyesight, gobies warn them when danger is nearby. 

They have a unique signal system, where the shrimp uses its antennae, and the fish uses its caudal fin. 

The fish indicates the predator by fluttering its fin, so the shrimp retreats. So basically, gobies are the watchman of the burrow. 

In return, the shrimp lets the goby live with it in the burrow and shares its food.

While some species like the red Caribbean pistol shrimps don’t get along with gobies, tiger pistol shrimps are friendly with the most genus of shrimp gobies like Stonogobiops, Cryptocentrus, and Amblyeleotris. 

So, what gobies go best with tiger pistol shrimps? Let’s find out! 

Tankmates For Tiger Pistol Shrimps

Yellow watchman goby
Credits: aquarist.me under Creative Commons license

You should never raise a tiger pistol shrimp alone without its goby friend, with whom it shares a unique interspecies friendship. Some suitable gobies for your tiger pistol shrimp are: 

  • Randall’s Goby 
  • Yasha Goby 
  • Hi Fin Red Banded Goby 
  • Yellow Watchman Goby
  • Diamond Watchman Goby
  • Orange Spotted Goby 
  • Pinkbar Goby
  • Wheeler’s Watchman Goby 
  • Pink Spotted Goby 
  • Tiger Watchman Goby 

My tiger pistol shrimp is paired with a yellow watchman goby. It’s always amusing to watch them up to their antics. One’s always digging and cleaning, while the other is vigilantly guarding the burrows. It’s almost as if their purposes are intertwined with each other.

Tank Mates To Avoid For Tiger Pistol Shrimp

Make sure that you don’t pair your tiger pistol shrimp with predatory species like:

  • Groupers
  • Triggers, 
  • Hawkfish
  • Lionfish
  • Puffers 
  • Brittle Star 
  • Mantis Shrimp

Between tiger pistol shrimp and mantis shrimp, the latter is the alpha. Although these two are often confused for each other, mantis shrimp is a predator that can reach up to 15 inches long. 

Breeding Tiger Pistol Shrimps 

There’s no particular season in the wild when tiger pistol shrimps mate. Instead, the mating procedure begins when the female shrimp molts. 

Tiger pistol shrimps engage in a monogamous relationship. Once the shrimps choose their partner, they stick with each other through the end. This means your female shrimp won’t have to go through harassment and bullying of the male shrimps every single time. 

The female’s reproductive cycle starts right after molting. Single males will show their readiness to mate with chemical signals and by producing loud snaps with their infamous claw. 

Once the pair is formed, they mate on the right window of the female’s molting cycle. When the female molts, the male gives her protection. 

Once again, we can see a mutually beneficial relationship here. The female receives protection against predators during her vulnerable period. On the other hand, the male will receive several mating opportunities. 

After fertilization, the female incubates the egg under the abdomen for around 28 days. The number of eggs could range anywhere from 50,000 to 1 million. 

The larvae then hatch as planktonic larvae and molt numerous times during the first few weeks before finally settling at the aquarium’s base to start their lives as adults. 

Let’s look at their development phases in detail. 

3 Stages Of Larval Development In Tiger Pistol Shrimps 

The larval development process in tiger pistol shrimps goes through 3 stages lasting 1-2 hours, 24-28 hours, and 2-3 days respectively. After completion, they enter the post-larval stage.

First stage (1-2 hours)

During this stage, the new hatchlings enlarge in size. Interestingly, some shrimps hatch ready and equipped for the second stage – thus, skipping the first one. 

Second stage (24-28 hours)

During the second stage, the hatchlings’ eyes and appendages develop further. For nutritional requirements, the hatchlings depend on the yolk sac that’s attached to them since the mouth isn’t yet developed. The yolk is rich in protein and fortifies the hatchlings’ diet until they’re ready to eat other food. 

Third stage (2-3 days)

During the third stage, the hatchlings begin to take the shape of miniature shrimps. They then enter the post-larval stage shortly and prepare for adulthood.

How To Breed Tiger Pistol Shrimp? 

Breeding tiger pistol shrimps is albeit complex than raising them. If you are serious about breeding and raising the fry, you must get a separate breeding tank and prepare it accordingly. After hatching, the fry can have baby brine shrimp, larvae cyclopeeze, and other crushed frozen food.

Prepare The Tank 

Get a 10-gallon breeding tank. Cover the sides and the front part with black paper or paint them black from outside with safe paint. Install a sponge filter and an air stone set on low. Make sure to only use a sponge filter – otherwise, the fry would get sucked in. Maintain the temperature around 75°F (23°C).

Cover the base with a fine substrate like sand or fine coral rubble. Add dechlorinated water halfway. In many places, the water is treated with chlorine. Make sure to let the water rest for at least 24 hours to be fully dechlorinated before adding the shrimps. 

Transfer Gravid Shrimps

Transfer the gravid shrimps to the breeding tank so that the fry have a better chance of survival. 

While transferring the shrimps, make sure to be extremely gentle. Keep the breeding tank adjacent to the main reef tank if needed. You definitely don’t want to injure or stress her. 

Also, it’s advised to very gradually introduce her to the new water. You could use the dripping system for that. 

Usually, once the eggs hatch, the female shrimp will swim upward and flick the young ones off her legs a couple of times. 

Once you’re sure the female shrimp’s done, transfer her to the main reef tank. 

Taking Care Of Tiger Pistol Shrimp Fry 

Feed your tiger pistol shrimp fry baby brine shrimp, larvae cyclopeeze, and other crushed frozen food. Make sure to keep an eye out on their feeding pattern to see if they’re unable to eat or avoiding the food. If that’s the case, they can quickly die of starvation. Once they grow out of the larvae stage, you can give them frozen brine shrimp and mysis. 

To maintain the tank’s water parameters, siphon the detritus daily and top off with water from your main reef tank. 

 Zoo Med Can O’ Cyclops

Tips For Buying Tiger Pistol Shrimp 

You can buy your tiger pistol shrimp both online or offline. Factors like the distance you’re purchasing from, the shrimp’s health, and the breeder’s credibility play an essential role in determining the shrimp’s wellbeing. 

As much as possible, make sure that you’re buying from the nearest locale. For instance, if you live in Florida and buy online from Missouri, your shrimp will be traveling over a thousand miles in a plastic pouch or container. 

Thus, by the time he gets to you, the poor thing would be scared, fatigued, and in ill health condition. This, coupled with drastic environmental change, can even cause death. 

But this doesn’t mean you can buy the shrimp from any random store around the block. So don’t forget to gauge things like the breeder’s credibility and living conditions of the creatures at his shop before you buy. 

While buying, also ask about the shrimp’s preferred diet and water parameters because no rules are set in stone. They can differ varyingly depending on the pet’s needs. 

And lastly, don’t forget to examine the shrimp properly before buying to ensure all the body parts – antennae, tail, legs, and claw – are intact. Also, tiger pistol shrimps are quite easy to detect than other shrimps due to their iconic cream, tan, and brown stripes. 

Tiger pistol shrimps retail for anywhere between $20-40 per piece. So I’ll repeat again – if you don’t already have a goby, buy one while at it. 

Can I Place My Tiger Pistol Shrimp Alongside Snail, Shrimps, And Crabs? 

Although several aquarists claim that they have successfully raised tiger pistol shrimps along with snails, shrimps, and crabs, it’s only a matter of time before your shrimp kills them or eats them up. 

Since all of these creatures love to hang out at the bottom of the tank, your shrimp might use its attacking prowess to make itself a tasty dinner. 

Can Tiger Pistol Shrimp Break Tank Glass?

No, as dangerous as they sound, tiger pistol shrimps cannot break your tank’s glass. The glass would probably break from vibration if they were to constantly snap. But since that’s not the case, you don’t have to worry about your tank cracking. 

Can I Hear Tiger Pistol Shrimp Underwater?

Yes, you can hear tiger pistol shrimp underwater. It’s sonorous and can even be deafening if you are too close to the shrimp. However, since the water pressure surrounding the shrimp in the tank is quite low, the snapping sound produced is a lot more muted than what we would hear in nature.

Can I Keep Tiger Pistol Shrimp In A Reef Tank? 

Yes, absolutely. Tiger pistol shrimps are, in fact, supposed to live in reef and saltwater tanks. They do not consume corals – so they’re perfectly safe to keep in reef tanks. 

However, your corals may sometimes get damaged from too much burrowing. Since the excavated sand can land on coral, it’s best to place the corals around 8 inches (20 centimeters) up from the sandbed. 

Conclusion: Tiger Pistol Shrimp Care Guide 

Shrimp-keeping is addictive. And it doesn’t get any more interesting than raising tiger pistol shrimps. They’re nature’s marvel in the truest sense. 

Although they’re very unique and exotic, rearing tiger pistol shrimps is reasonably easy as long as you have the correct information in hand.

Breeding them and rearing the fry is quite tricky, but if you have a fair bit of experience and the right information, that’s doable too. 

If you’ve brought home a tiger pistol shrimp, I am so happy for you! And I hope that you’ve also brought home shrimp goby. They have the most beautiful, symbiotic friendship, which will surely be an endless source of amusement for you. 

In captivity, they can live around 3-4 years with the right care. Just make sure that you’ve gone through the care guide thoroughly to not make any mistakes! 

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rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.