If you have been diving on the Atmosphere house reef, then you know that we like to spend a lot of time in the seagrass during the safety stop. Sometimes we find frogfish, nudis, pygmy squid, different species of pipefish, and even the occasional octopus. Not many of these, besides baby frogfish, are incredibly tiny, so you might be wondering – why is the dive guide inspecting every blade of grass? The answer is that they are searching for one of my new favorite critters, the hairy shrimp (Scientific Name: Phycocaris simulans)! Before I arrived at Atmosphere in 2014, I had never seen or heard of this kind of shrimp. It took me until January 2016 to see my first one, almost 700 dives later!
The hairy shrimp is a macro photographers dream and nightmare all mixed in one. Its normal size range is from 1mm to 5mm (smaller than a grain of rice!), which makes it incredibly hard to find and even harder to photograph without the proper setup. The payoff is when you get a picture of one in focus – it looks really awesome, has so much detail, and it has hilarious gigantic eyelashes. In Dauin, especially on the house reef, we find the majority of the hairy shrimp between 3 and 7 meters in the seagrass. A lot of the seagrass is covered in small patches of algae and this is where we find most of the hairy shrimp as they mimic the algae almost perfectly. Occasionally we find them down at 20 meters, but almost always on something covered in algae.
There are three variations, and probably different species as well, that are referred to as hairy shrimp. The ‘true’ hairy shrimp is characterized by thin, hair-like growths on its body. It is normally white, red, yellow, brown, or purple. It is almost always found in algae-covered areas, especially seagrass. The second variation is the ‘two-lined’ hairy shrimp. This variety is characterized by, you guessed it, two lines running parallel to each other on the side of its body. It is covered in clump-like growths and looks very bumpy. This variation is very rare and we find at all depths, although normally not on sea grass. The third variation I have only see once and we affectionally call it ‘greenie’ or the green hairy shrimp. It is covered in a small layer of fuzz and is pure green, the exact same color as the seagrass, and a bit chunkier or fatter than the other two variations. This shrimp is sometimes found in the seagrass but normally hides in between small green/white sea squirts.
Next time you are on a safety stop hovering above some seagrass, take a look and try to find a hairy shrimp. The only pieces of advice I have are to look for the small tuft of algae that is moving in a different direction in the surge than the rest of the algae and to look for shrimp-shaped algae. It took me months to find my first hairy shrimp, but once you are able to find a few, it becomes much easier. Sometimes you can even photograph one without even realizing it!
Daniel – Your Marine Biologist at Atmosphere