The Harlequin Shrimp Keeps Prey Alive To Eat Slowly
Harlequin always seems to mean brightly colored but kind of scary. Harley Quinn will throw confetti in your face but will also feed you to a hippo. The classic harlequin clown from Italian theater takes part in a comedy, but he’s a trickster in the same way devil characters are tricksters. The “harle” in harlequin means hell. The French had the legend of the Mesnée d’Hellequin, their version of the Wild Hunt, demons who ride across the sky to kill you.
And then there’s the harlequin shrimp.
Shrimp are not scary. Shrimp are delicious, and they can’t kill anything themselves, right, they can just scavenge. The harlequin shrimp is an exception.
Harlequin shrimp hunt, and they hunt exactly one thing: starfish. You know, like the giant starfish Harley fights in The Suicide Squad, only slightly smaller. A pair of shrimps (perhaps one red, one blue) work together to turn a starfish over, one of them snipping those little suckers attaching the starfish to a rock and the other handling the flipping. From that point on, the starfish has no ability to right itself again or defend itself in any way.
The happy couple (who mate for life) may drag the starfish to their lair. They nibble off and eat one of the five legs. But they don’t kill the starfish. The prey stays alive for a week as they slowly eat it. In fact, the shrimp may even keep the victim alive by feeding it algae during this time—“force-feed” it, say those who watch this happening—letting its meat stay good and fresh. This would even be a great way of getting the starfish to regenerate its legs and provide infinite food, except that starfish take a whole year to grow a leg back, and shrimp won’t wait that long before gobbling the whole prisoner up.
Don’t feel too sorry for the starfish. Starfish have no brains, so we don’t imagine they understand the true horror of what’s happening to them. Also, those cute starfish are terrible for coral, so shrimp killing them off is a plus for all of us.
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Top image: Warner Bros.