|Hawai'i's red pond shrimp, known in Hawaiian as 'opae 'ula, have become a popular addition to aquariums. However, heavy collecting as well as predatory fish could threaten the tiny creatures. Hawaii's Sea Creatures by John P. Hoover|
Tiny red Hawaiian shrimp that live in anchialine ponds and underground crevices are turning into a popular aquarium species. The little shrimp may be the perfect aquarium animals. They are hardy, active and require very little care. They can live at a range of temperatures and salinity, from fresh water to ocean water.
Big Island bonsai entrepreneur David Fukumoto, whose Kurtistown-based Fuku-Bonsai brought miniature trees to the masses, has launched a business selling aquariums with lava rock, a light and a bunch of the little shrimp, which are 'opae 'ula in Hawaiian and Halocaridina rubra to scientists. He calls the half-inch creatures "amazing Hawaiian micro-lobsters," and sells "mini-breeder" tanks on the Internet, starting at $89.95.
You'll also find them for sale in jars at swap meets and on Web sites. They have been sold as complete ecological systems in sealed glass spheres, and went into space in 2001 for observation on the International Space Station.
Fukumoto said the shrimp are sometimes collected and sold as live food for other aquarium fish, a practice he decries. Stockly's Aquariums owner Bill Stockly of Kailua, Kona, said he sells both open and hermetically sealed aquariums with shrimp he raises in tanks. A softball-sized sphere sells for $19.95 and "microhabitats" start at $39.95. "I started working with these animals 20 years ago," he said.
Both Fukumoto and Stockly said 'opae 'ula survive on microalgae and bacteria in the tanks if you don't feed them, although they may appear to get bigger and reproduce better if you do.
The shrimp are native to the Islands, and can be found in anchialine ponds nearshore pools that don't connect to the ocean on Moloka'i, Kaho'olawe, Maui, O'ahu and the Big Island. They are most common in the lava anchialine ponds of the west side of the Big Island. Early Hawaiians collected the shrimp and used them as bait for the schooling mackerel, 'opelu.
Marine ecologist Richard Brock has studied the animals since the 1970s, and is somewhat concerned about the aggressive collecting. A healthy population of 'opae 'ula could sustain a lot of collecting, but the populations are threatened by predatory fish, he said.
"In the early 1970s, small numbers of pools had guppies, mosquito fish and tilapia. By 1985, a study indicated that 47 percent of ponds contained these fish, and now about 95 percent have them," Brock said. All of these fish eat the tiny shrimp, which are seldom found sharing the same pools today.
Brock said early Hawaiians would sometimes put fish into the anchialine pools to hold them for later consumption, and some of them, like aholehole (young Hawaiian flagtail), did eat the shrimp. But since the native fish did not complete their life cycles in the ponds, they did not develop permanent populations. By dumping alien fish into the ponds, "we're closing off the habitat for these animals," he said.
Marine scientists have been able to find only one effective means of killing off the alien fish populations without harming the shrimp. It's an organic insecticide called rotenone, made from the sap of certain tropical plants. Brock said it is used at levels that kill fish but don't damage crustaceans, and which break down after a few hours in sunlight. But rotenone is now prohibited from use in anchialine ponds in Hawai'i. Brock said he hopes the ban will be lifted so that some of the ponds can be restored to their native inhabitants.
Fukumoto said he buys his shrimp from a licensed collector, and is working on a captive propagation program so he can produce them without drawing on the wild animals. He said the shrimp are reproducing in captivity, but not yet in large enough numbers. "We still have to collect until we develop our captive breeding program," he said.
He recommends feeding the animals spirulina powder, which he said is similar to the microalgae they eat in nature. Another benefit is that it floats and won't cloud the water, Fukumoto said. He provides buyers of his systems with a small jar of the feed, which he said "should last 25 years."
Reach Jan TenBruggencate at email@example.com or (808) 245-3074. © COPYRIGHT 2004 The Honolulu Advertiser, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. Article reproduced by Fuku-Bonsai with written permission of the executive editor. Reproduction of the photo by written permission of John P. Hoover
NOTE: The last sentence of the article contains an error. Fuku-Bonsai provides a small vial that will feed about 25 Micro-Lobsters for about a year. The Advertiser issued a correction-clarification. Fuku-Bonsai repackages spirulina to make it available and keep it fresh. The smallest otherwise available jar will likely be enough for at least 25 years.
Writer Jan TanBruggencate focused on introducing an emerging Hawaiian niche industry and it was therefore very appropriate for him to include our competition in the article. Our products are very different. Bill produces smaller economical units using what we consider unacceptable goals and standards. While more economical, smaller units must contain smaller populaions with less likelihood of establishing a sustainable breeding colony.
In all reported observations, only a small percentage of the females carry eggs and it is still not possible to easily identify males and females. So we opted to offer larger units with a larger number of opae-ula to add more interest and improved odds. Initial reports indicate that some customers are already achieving success in creating sustainable breeding colonies.
We believe that the larger 3/4-gallon Educational Breeder Tank contains the critical mass of water volume and number of Micro-Lobsters to more consistently have breeding success. The higher water column generates more student interest and the larger unit is therefore appropriate to be utilized as teaching tools in institutions nationally and internationally.
Fuku-Bonsai is offering the Educational Breeder Tank at a discount to teachers and schools who will participate in developing lesson plans and curriculum materials to be available in a future Teachers' Manual or posting on this website. Please contact me for more information. From our perspective, the movement toward larger educational units is a natural development as we continue to create optimum environments for these tiny and amazing Hawaiian Micro-Lobsters!
THE FIRST WAVE. Opae-ula were part of sealed "balanced eco-systems in which only light enters." Units likely fail due to inadequate algae growth and not producing enough oxygen.
THE SECOND WAVE. Crafters who were largely unlicensed and did not identify themselves with their products introduced the second generation of small opae-ula jars promoting "the perfect pets that never need to be fed." Air exchange resolved the oxygen problem but by not feeding, the opae-ula shrank, became almost lifeless, and lost their personalities.
THE THIRD WAVE! Fuku-Bonsai's Micro-Lobster Breeder Tanks are larger and a sustainable breeding colony. When fed, the opae-ula are happy, healthy, and active. They retain their natural size and personalities.
For more information, phone Fuku-Bonsai at (808) 982-9880, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.fukubonsai.com.
Fuku-Bonsai first introduced a 1/2-gallon Introductory Aquarium on a "feed optional
basis," including to many of the top aquaculture researchers and those knowledgeable
about opae-ula, including small vials of spirulina. The overwhelming positive
endorsement resulted in a major product redesign and a Fuku-Bonsai full commitment to a
feed recommendation which differentiates our products and results from others.
6-MONTH REPORT. A progress and status report dated November 2003 of what was learned since the initial introduction in June 2003. Fuku-Bonsai is committed to public research and all customers are invited to participate. Future reports will be posted on this website.