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A Story of Bromance: The Shrimp & Goby

A Story of Bromance: The Shrimp & Goby

Written by Roy Kittrell 29 January 2023.

In the spirit of Valentine’s day, we would like to shine light on the many symbiotic relationships between many different species in the vast ocean this month!

Hermit crabs, for instance, rely on the shells made by the many various snails for the mobile homes that they carry on their back. Some species of shrimp like the Emperor shrimp live on the backs of sea cucumbers and use them as a kind of seafloor public transport. 

But for the vast majority of these relationships the two animals are only vaguely aware of each other. There is no interspecies communication, it is merely what is called a ‘commensal’ relationship, where one animal gains benefits from the relationship (for example, the shrimp gains a home, protection and transport) and the host animal (for instance, the sea cucumber) does not receive any benefit or harm.

There is another kind of symbiotic relationship however, which is known as ‘mutualism’, where both animals gain a net benefit from each other. This is the special kind of relationship that the pistol shrimp and the goby have… and it is truly one of the greatest bromances under the ocean!

In the picture here you can see a well camouflaged Goby fish with its characteristic big eyes popping out of its burrow in the sand, and below it a small pale blue pistol shrimp living in exactly the same burrow. Despite being two different species, these animals are working together to build a burrow that they both can live safely in.

The shrimp, with it’s excellent sense of hard work and tough exoskeleton, can easily dig out a burrow big enough for both of them to live in, while the goby fish with it’s excellent eyesight can keep watch for danger and alert the shrimp when it’s time to dive back into the burrow and take cover.

They even have a system of communication with each other; the shrimp will always keep one of its antennae on the goby who will give a flick of its tail when it senses danger, so that both of them can dart back into their shared burrow together. Think about this for a moment, two completely different animals, a fish and crustacean, developing a way to communicate with each other and cooperating for their mutual benefit! Quite remarkable and fascinating, isn’t it?

One of the best things about these creatures is that they are very widespread in the coral triangle of SE Asia, so are relatively easy to find on almost any dive trip with Flow. I, myself saw an area with dozens of goby shrimp pairs on a dive trip to Tioman Island with Flow DC, and it’s quite amazing to see these animals in person. You should check out our trip to Tioman this March!

One last side note, the pistol shrimp itself is a rather special and remarkable creature with some amazing superpower and I’m sure I will cover it at some point in a future article, so keep an eye out for more of my articles in the coming months! Also, feel free to write to us ( if you have any feedback or requests on future articles.

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