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  • Writer's pictureTamar Broadbent

Unlikely Best Friends

The Tale of the Pistol Shrimp and the Goby Fish

I have two new favourite characters. I’m going to write about them here and then they’ll eventually appear as the animated leads in a Disney film, and I’ll wish I’d made it myself, but I’m willing to take that risk in order for you to know their story.

When I was snorkelling on holiday, I came across a small hole in the sand and, sitting next to it, what appeared to be a ghost fish. It was a fish - but a very, very pale white fish. Almost translucent. A fish from a former time!

I frowned at it in my snorkel for a while - I’d never seen a ghost fish before – but you can’t frown too hard in a snorkel or you disturb the suction and water starts getting in through the edges of your mask.

So, I stopped frowning and was about to move on, when I saw something even more unexpected. Out of the hole came a little shrimp, carrying sand. Yes – he was carrying it in his little shrimp hands. He popped the pile of sand on the sea floor and then went back in to keep digging his burrow. What did he need a burrow for?!

Shrimp things, I supposed.

All the while, this tiny white fish hovered on the edge of the shrimp’s burrow, not disturbed by his presence. They weren’t freaked out by each other either. It even seemed like they were... friends?!

The next day, I saw the same thing again. Another tiny white fish, hanging out by a hole, and a little shrimp carrying his sand. It wasn’t a one-time thing. These sea creatures had some kind of an arrangement! And I wanted to get to the bottom of it.

I tried to google it... But what was I meant to google?

Ghost fish and prawn?

Small white fish sitting by hole whilst shrimp does work

Fish and shrimps = pals?!

After a few long minutes of googling (nowadays, a very long time to find something out), I discovered this incredible video made by Omar Badr, The Odd Couple.

It’s all about the pistol shrimp and the goby fish! That’s who I’d seen! I knew their names! Badr says these two have a symbiotic relationship and it works like this:

The shrimp is really good at digging burrows, but he’s blind. So he needs help from the goby fish to watch out for predators, whilst he’s digging his hole. In return, the goby fish is allowed to take shelter in the hole. When the goby fish sees a potential predator, he waggles his tail at the shrimp and the shrimp knows to stay in the hole. And then the goby jumps into the hole as well at the speed of lightning! And then they just hang out there for a while, until it’s safe to come out again, chatting about the reef shortage and how wavy the sea is that day.

These two need each other to survive! And I can relate. Aren't there people in your life who’ve been the goby fish to your pistol shrimp?! That friend who holds the door for you when you’re at some dingy club and all of the locks on the toilets are broken. The friend who keeps watch whilst you’re changing from underwear into a bikini in a public place because you forgot earlier and there’s no changing rooms anywhere. That friend you have when you’re both trying to get your lives together – build some kind of a hole - and they look out for you in case any scary things come along. And sometimes they crash in your hole. And it works. And it’s wonderful.

But no friendships are perfect. Fish friendships, or human ones. Sometimes, the goby fish goes off to socialise and leaves the pistol shrimp just wandering around aimlessly. He forgets all about their deal and goes off chasing tail. Like when you're out with a friend for your birthday and they abandon you to get with the doorman and then you’re left walking around by yourself like the poor little blind pistol shrimp.

But that’s life. Goby fish gotta make friends. They spend a lot of time sat by that hole, you can’t begrudge them a few little adventures. To my old symbiotic friends, I’m sorry for the times I left you wandering around like the pistol shrimp, and I forgive you for the times you left me, especially if it meant you got to talk to a turtle or something. I get it - turtles are cute.

There’s also this whole thing where the pistol shrimp has to be careful around the goby fish because sometimes the goby fish will get hungry and eats the pistol shrimp’s eggs. And even if I have had some rocky friendships in my life, I’m proud to say I don’t think any of us would have done that to each other.

The last thing I saw between these two incredible creatures, was that at one point the shrimp stopped coming out of the hole. I saw the goby fish kind of check in the hole, but there was no sign of the shrimp. Next thing I knew, that fish went in and started carrying the sand out himself. It must have been in his mouth, because fish don’t have hands. But he was digging that hole as best he could when the shrimp couldn’t do it anymore. He just took over the job. He didn’t have to be asked. There was no ‘you owe me one’ or anything. He just helped out.

That's a great friend. The one who jumps in and covers for you when you just can’t face carrying anymore sand.

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