Fire Shrimp vs Cleaner Shrimp: Which Is Best?

Posted by Miles Harrison on 01/05/2022

Maintaining an aquarium has many perks, let’s face it - it’s one of the best hobbies out there, but there are challenges even experienced aquarists will face from time to time. One of these challenges is maintaining a balance in water chemistry. Leftover food often accumulates along the substrate, and will eventually decay, resulting in dangerous ammonia spikes.

Luckily, thanks to decades of fishkeeping experience, there are plenty of tools at our disposal to manage these problems. One of these methods involves the creation of a clean up crew - a collection of fish and invertebrates who will consume leftover food sources that accumulate along the substrate. Some of the best at the job are blood red fire shrimp and scarlet skunk cleaner shrimp, and while they have many similarities, there are some distinct differences that you should be aware of before purchasing one of these species. In this post, we’ll discuss their similarities and differences, and we’ll reveal why they’re both commonly referred to as cleaner shrimp.

What are Fire Shrimp?

Fire shrimp (scientific name: Lysmata debelius) are a species of cleaner shrimp popular in the saltwater aquarium hobby. Three families are most commonly referred to as cleaner shrimp, and they are the Palaemondiae, Stenopodidae, and Hipoolytidae, the last of which contains the Fire Shrimp species.

They can be found throughout the Indo-Pacific, from the Maldives to the Philippines, and are known for their unique symbiotic relationship with fish. These shrimp will readily clean off parasites and tissue from any live fish that are willing to present themselves. It’s a sight to behold in nature and is the reason why these species have earned the “cleaner shrimp” nickname.

Image of a Red Fire Shrimp
Rotatebot/Wikimedia Commons
Red Fire Shrimp have white legs and antennas

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Fire Shrimp vs Cleaner Shrimp: What’s the Difference?

Scarlet Skunk Cleaner Shrimp (scientific name: Lysmata amboinensis), also referred to as the Pacific Cleaner Shrimp, are similar to Fire Shrimp, but are much more abundant in the wild. The species is found throughout the tropics, at depths of up to 130 feet below the surface.

While both the fire shrimp and scarlet skunk cleaner shrimp have similar diets, they do have some distinct differences. The scarlet skunk cleaner shrimp has a mostly translucent body with a brightly colored red stripe and a narrower white line running along the top of its body.

Fire shrimp have a brightly-covered opaque red body, broken up by small white dots that circle the shrimp’s midsection. Their legs and antennas are white and are generally about half an inch larger than skunk cleaner shrimp.

Image of a Cleaner Shrimp
Daderot/Wikimedia Commons
Scarlet skunk cleaner shrimp are known for their unique appearance

Best Option for Removing Uneaten Food

Both shrimp will consume leftover food and dead tissue, but scarlet skunk cleaner shrimp tend to do a better job overall. Cleaner shrimp tend to be much more active than fire red shrimp, and this increase in activity results in an increase in food consumption.

If you tend to overfeed your fish, you can’t go wrong with adding scarlet skunk cleaner shrimp to get rid of uneaten food.

Best Option for Viewing

Fire shrimp tend to have shyer personalities when compared to skunk cleaner shrimp. They're often hiding in small caves and crevices, and are known to be pretty reclusive.

Of course, your mileage may vary, as individual shrimp tend to have their distinct personalities, but you can’t go wrong with scarlet skunk cleaner shrimp.

Best Option for a Reef Tank

Both fire and scarlet skunk shrimp are reef-safe, meaning they won’t attack or pick at corals, but it’s worth noting that their scavenging personalities can steal food meant to be consumed by corals. Always monitor your corals during feeding, so that food meant to be eaten by coral isn't hijacked by your cleaner shrimp.

Although we think both species look great in a reef tank, if we had to pick one, we’d go with the fire shrimp, mostly due to their coloration. It contrasts nicely with the vibrant color of corals, especially torches and brain corals.

Image of a scarlet skunk cleaner shrimp
Brocken Inaglory/Wikimedia Commons
Scarlet Skunk cleaning the mouth of a Tessalata Eel

Best Option On a Budget

Scarlet skunk cleaner shrimp tend to breed more frequently in captivity compared to fire shrimp, and they’re also more common in the wild. This abundance often correlates with their price.

Whether you’re purchasing cleaner shrimp online (occasionally they go up for sale on our marketplace) or at your local fish store, scarlet skunks tend to be much more affordable compared to fire shrimp.

Price Comparison

While seasonality and availability are often the biggest determining factors when it comes to pricing, hobbyists can expect to pay around $30-$40 per scarlet skunk shrimp and about $100 per fire shrimp.

Always purchase from a reliable and trustworthy vendor, you can also save a bit of cash if you purchase small groups of these shrimp at once.


Now that you’ve learned about the subtle differences between fire shrimp and scarlet skunk cleaner shrimp, which one do you think you’ll choose for your saltwater aquarium? Luckily, these shrimp can co-exist, so if budget allows, why not go for both?

You won’t regret it, as these shrimp are fun to watch and a joy to keep. Let us know what you decide by commenting below, and be sure to check out our community forum and our marketplace, where other hobbyists buy and sell anything related to the hobby.

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Miles Harrison

With over a decade of aquarium experience, Miles can be found writing about saltwater and freshwater aquariums. When he’s not writing about fish, you can find him going for a run or building websites, such as this one!