In this episode of “Take a Minute to Relax”, we would like to focus your attention on a small treasure, that’s easy to overlook: Sarasvati Anemone Shrimp (Periclimenes sarasvati). This little beauty is a commensal shrimp, genus of semi-transparent within the family Palaemonidae, often living symbiotically. It has been labelled with many common names, depending on the region of the Indo-Pacific where it is found. Anemone- Carid, Cleaner, Commensal, or even Glass shrimp, due to the fact that their bodies are almost transparent.
A born goddess: Sarasvati Anemone shrimp (Periclimenes sarasvati)
However, the scientific name “Periclimenes sarasvati” rolls so nicely of the tongue, and is beautifully befitting! It has been named after the Hindu goddess Sarasvati, which is the goddess of knowledge, music, arts and science. Periclimenes sarasvati is relatively easy to distinguish from other species in their genus, by the red stripe(s) going through their white eyes. The one in this particular shot also seems to have a bundle of pink eggs in her abdomen. One of the advantages of a transparent body!
This pretty creature grows to a maximum of 2,5 cm and can be found on coral reefs from 2 – 40 meters of depth. They prefer to live in small groups and will form symbiotic relationships with host species, like anemones and corals. It is at these host species, that the Periclimenes sarasvati will set up shop, and open their cleaning business. Because most all reef and pelagic fish species enjoy a good cleaning session once every so often, to rid themselves of parasites, help clean any wounds they might have, and lower their overall stress levels, these cleaners are generally very well respected.
Sarasvati Anemone shrimp (Periclimenes sarasvati) is getting to work
However, when one is so small, it can’t hurt to provide your services from the safety of a voracious killer like an anemone, to which one can retreat, when a customer is showing signs of bad behaviour/intentions. These cleaning stations are fairly easy to spot for anyone diving, and/or snorkelling on a particular reef. When a reef fish hovers over, or next to an anemone or coral for a while, one can be pretty sure that there is a cleaning service in progress at that particular spot.
If and when one manages to approach a cleaning station in such a manner that disturbs neither the “staff” nor the “customers”, one gets the opportunity to observe the behaviour of both, the personnel and their clients, in this cleaning operation. Periclimenes sarasvati tend to hover a fair distance over their host species, to advertise that they’re willing to receive customers. When a fish approaches, they first retreat to the safety of their host’s stinging tentacles, from which they will assess if their potential client is giving the right signals. During this time they may “clap” their hands/arms together in a particular sequence, advertising their willingness to start the cleaning activities.
If, and when the customer displays the right submissive behaviour, signalling they are ready, and willing to be cleaned, without any “funny business”, multiple Periclimenes sarasvati will go to work and clean the customer’s skin, potential wounds, gills, and even the inside of their mouths. Quite some fish will change skin colour before, and during their treatment, to inform the cleaners that they will behave appropriately during the proceedings. After observing all of this, one might even be rewarded with a free manicure themselves!