Cleaners in the waters?

Have you ever wondered how fishes keep themselves clean?

Or do they even need to be cleaned?

Well, small animals called the cleaner shrimps, such as the Periclimenes longicarpus, as shown in the picture below, cleans the fishes! The shrimps will be hanging around the cleaning stations in the waters and when a fish stops by, the shrimps will climb onto the fish. They will then use their claws to pick off detritus, dead skins, ectoparasites and tiny pieces of food. If the mouth of the fish is open, the shrimp will also climb into its mouth to clean.

Periclimenes longicarpus

These cleaner shrimps are actually much more than we can imagine – they clap to indicate their hunger levels. This means that when these cleaner shrimps are hungry, they will clap their claws! The rate of signaling in the shrimps will increase when they are deprived of food, that is, the demand for cleaning is low. Signaling by the shrimps can also be seen as a form of advertisement of service, so that the exchange of commodities ( the cleaner shrimps get food while the fishes get cleaned up) with clients – the fishes, will be better. Moreover, clapping may serve as both visual and auditory or vibration identity signals (Hasson 1997) as many reef fishes have low resolution power (Marshall 2000). Hence this will enable the fishes to locate the cleaner shrimps.

These cleaner shrimps are brave too!

In the marine cleaning interaction, the symbiotic relationship formed between the shrimp and the fish is of great trust. This is because some of these fishes that stop by at the cleaning stations can be predatory fishes which can just prey on the cleaner shrimps easily when they are cleaning them.

So fishes in the marine environment do actually “bathe” as well! Their bodies are being clean by “cleaners” in the waters such as the cleaner shrimps. To end this post, follow the link and enjoy this youtube video about the cleaning symbiosis among Hawaiian reef fishes, moray eels, sea turtles and cleaner shrimps. It illustrates that not only fishes get cleaned but other marine animals as well, even humans!

Cleaners in the Marine Environment




Hasson, O. 1997. Towards a general theory of biological signaling. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 185, 139–156.

 Lucille Chapuis, Redouan Bshary, Signalling by the cleaner shrimp Periclimenes longicarpus. Animal Behaviour, Volume 79, Issue 3, March 2010, Pages 645-647

 Marshall, N. J. 2000. Communication and camouflage with the same ‘bright’ colours in reef fishes. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 355, 1243–1248.


“Odd Couples” by Amy Sarver. National Geographic Explorer. Pages 6-11, January-February 2006 issue. URL: (accessed on 3 April 2010)

“Photos get the flavour of scienceby Jonathan Amos. BBC News, 28 September 2005. URL: (accessed on 3 April 2010)

 Photographs/ Video

 “El Gouna 02.2009 422” by Alain76. Alain76’s photostream: El Gouna, Egypte 2009 (Set). URL: (accessed on 3 April 2010)

 “Hawaiian Showers – Cleaning Stations in Hawaii + Scuba Diving” by LivingOceanProd, Youtube Channel, 17 March 2008. URL: (accessed on 3 April 2010) 

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