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Will Hawkfish Eat Cleaner Shrimp?

Hawkfish or cirrhitidae are a family of marine fish typically found among tropical coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific Ocean. Their colorful appearance, vibrant personality, and active nature make them a favorite among many saltwater aquarium hobbyists. But are they considered invert safe? In other words, will they eat cleaner shrimp in a captive aquatic environment?

The chances of hawkfish preying on cleaner shrimp in a saltwater tank are high! As carnivores, large species of hawkfish are very likely to eat smaller shrimp in a captive aquatic environment. The only reasons they may not is if the hawkfish is smaller than the shrimp, if the hawkfish is well fed so it doesn’t need to feast on tankmates, and if the cleaner shrimp is already established in the aquarium.

Now that you know the likelihood of hawkfish eating cleaner shrimp in a marine tank are about 99% under the appropriate circumstances, that is, let’s explore this topic in more detail. As we move through this article together, we’ll learn which species of hawkfish are most likely to feast on cleaner shrimp in captivity, how to prevent them from doing this, and what to feed them to keep them satisfied.

So, if you’re ready to learn more about hawkfish are their carnivorous habits in a saltwater aquarium, then let’s get started!

Will Flame Hawkfish Eat Cleaner Shrimp?

Crustaceans and shrimp make up a big portion of the flame hawkfish diet – be it that they’re a type of predatory or carnivorous fish. Therefore, they’re not considered ‘invert safe.’ In other words, they’ll likely eat juvenile cleaner shrimp any chance they get! Flame hawkfish are semi-aggressive and highly territorial. They’ll often hunt and feast on easy prey, like tiny invertebrates.

Will Longnose Hawkfish Eat Cleaner Shrimp?

Longnose hawkfish will eat cleaner shrimp – if they’re small enough, that is. They won’t prey on medium- or large-sized shrimp. Adult longnose hawkfish can reach lengths of around 5 inches and since many full-grown cleaner shrimps are at least half that size (2 to 3 inches long), the longnose tends not to prey on them but rather on tiny crab such as baby hermit crabs.

Will Freckled Hawkfish Eat Cleaner Shrimp?

Freckled hawkfish are big and quite aggressive in temperament. They can reach full-grown lengths of up to 9 inches which makes them the ideal predatory fish in a saltwater tank with smaller invertebrates and crustaceans. In fact, this species will even eat other tiny fish in captivity, should the opportunity present itself.  Therefore, they shouldn’t be kept in a tank with cleaner shrimp.

Will Pixy Hawkfish Eat Cleaner Shrimp?

The pixy or coral hawkfish, though smaller in size than other species of hawkfish (maximum 3 inches long), can be quite aggressive in a captive aquatic environment. However, the chances of this species preying on cleaner shrimp in a saltwater tank are minimal since the shrimp is roughly the same size as the pixy which is simply too big to attack.

flame hawkfish in a reef tank

Will Threadfin Hawkfish Eat Cleaner Shrimp?

The threadfin or spotted hawkfish is considered semi-aggressive in temperament and can reach adult lengths of up to 5 inches. As a carnivore, it’ll likely feast on tiny invertebrates and crustaceans in a marine tank environment. While baby cleaner shrimp could be at risk of being eaten by this species, adults are just too large for the threadfin to prey upon.

Will Yellow Hawkfish Eat Cleaner Shrimp?

The yellow or golden hawkfish is vibrantly colored and highly aggressive in captivity. It can reach a full-grown length of 4 to 6 inches and will make short work of almost any smaller tankmate, including cleaner shrimp. Therefore, this species should only be kept in ‘invert-less’ marine tanks with other fish of like size and temperament.

Will Arc Eye Hawkfish Eat Cleaner Shrimp?

The arc eye hawkfish is predatory in nature with an aggressive temperament. It can reach lengths of up to 6 inches and will feast on any tankmate – including cleaner shrimp – that easily fits into its mouth! Though this species is considered reef compatible (with caution), it shouldn’t be kept in an aquarium with any invertebrates or crustaceans, even those of similar size.

Will Dwarf Hawkfish Eat Cleaner Shrimp?

The dwarf hawkfish, though small by hawkfish standards, is still predatory in nature and will hunt tiny fish, shrimps, and/or crabs in a marine tank environment. This species only grows to about 3 inches long, making it difficult for this fish to attack cleaner shrimp which tend to reach full-grown of 2 to 3 inches.  That said, they usually won’t eat adult cleaner shrimp.

Will Giant Hawkfish Eat Cleaner Shrimp?

The giant hawkfish is massive – reaching adult lengths of up to 24 inches! Needles to say, almost any fish, crab, and/or shrimp small nough to fit into its mouth will become dinner! In captivity, this predatory species likes to feast on invertebrates like cleaner shrimp, crustaceans (crabs, snails, krill, etc.) and even squid!

What to Feed Hawkfish?

Hawkfish are carnivorous and like to eat live, meaty foods. As a predatory fish, they prefer to hunt for their meals and will eat almost any fish, crab, or shrimp that’s small enough to fit into their mouths. In captivity, hawkfish will eat frozen brine shrimp and blood worms as well as marine pellets and flakes. If you have a snail problem in your tank, hawkfish will likely take care of that for you by eating them all!

Hawkfish like to eat lots (and often), so be sure to provide them with food multiple times throughout the day – enough to consume in a 2-to 3-minute time-period. Consider offering them live feeder shrimp to keep them from feasting on their invertebrate tankmates. Since some hawkfish will even eat smaller fish in a captive environment, you should only house them with other aquatic creatures of similar size.

cleaner shrimp

How to Prevent Hawkfish from Eating Cleaner Shrimp?

To prevent captive hawkfish from feasting on invertebrates and crustaceans, you must ensure the fish are smaller than the shrimp. As well, be mindful of feeding your hawkfish plenty of food so they’re not hungry. In fact, it’s not unheard of to offer edibles anywhere from 3 to 6 times per day! Hawkfish have voracious appetites and if not well-fed, will start to hunt and feast on their tankmates.

Also, if you get cleaner shrimp established in the tank first and then introduce juvenile hawkfish once the shrimp are full-grown, this may help reduce the risk. Since most hawkfish prefer to prey on smaller, weaker aquatic creatures – basically anything that makes for an easy meal – they often don’t bother with bigger fish or invertebrates.


In summation, it’s almost certain that a larger hawkfish will prey on smaller cleaner shrimp in a marine tank environment. As a type of meat-eating, bottom-dwelling fish, hawks prefer to feast on live foods such as crustaceans and invertebrates that live along the substrate in an aquarium. However, if you keep your fish well fed and with bigger shrimp, they may not feel compelled to eat their fellow tankmates!

I trust this article has helped answer your questions regarding hawkfish and their dietary habits in captivity. Thanks for reading and best of luck with your aquarium hobbyist endeavors!

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