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Skeleton shrimp

Skeleton shrimp

On Exhibit

Animal Facts

  • Scientific Name

    Caprella sp

  • Animal Type


  • Diet

    diatoms (microscopic plants), detritus, filtered food particles, amphipods

  • Size

    to 1.5 inches (4 cm) long

  • Relatives

    sand fleas, whale lice, other amphipods; Class: Crustacea; Order: Amphipoda

  • Habitat

    Coastal Waters

  • Range

    low intertidal zone and subtidal waters in bays, central and southern California

Natural History

Look closely to see these tiny skeleton shrimp clinging to bryozoans, hydroids or algae. Their body shape and color help the shrimp to blend into their background. Their bodies are long, cylindrical and range from pale brown and green to rose. Some species can quickly change color to blend into their backgrounds.

Skeleton shrimp look like, and are sometimes called, "praying mantises of the sea." They have two pairs of legs attached to the front end of their bodies, with three pairs of legs at the back end. The front legs form powerful "claws" for defense, grooming and capturing food. The rear legs have strong claws that grasp and hold on to algae or other surfaces. They use their antennae for filter feeding and swimming.


Skeleton shrimp are abundant and live in many habitats, including the deep sea. They play an important role in the ecosystem by eating up detritus and other food particles.

Cool Facts

Shrimp, sea anemones and surfperch prey on skeleton shrimp. The females of some skeleton shrimp species kill the male after mating. 

Skeleton shrimp use their front legs for locomotion. To move, they grasp first with those front legs and then with their back legs, in inchworm fashion. They swim by rapidly bending and straightening their bodies. 

To grow, skeleton shrimp shed their old exoskeletons and form new, larger ones. They can mate only when the female is between new, hardened exoskeletons. After mating, the female deposits her eggs in a brood pouch formed from leaflike projections on the middle part of her body. Skeleton shrimp hatch directly into juvenile adults.

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