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Small And Mighty: Super Small Animals and Their Impact

Here at Shedd, you can find animals of all shapes and sizes, from a 2,100-pound beluga to a frog the size of your thumbnail. We’re all familiar with the big animals like sharks, whales and dolphins, but what about the little ones? Super small animals have unique ways of navigating their environments and keeping themselves safe. Despite their small size, they play big roles in their ecosystems and are critical to protect. Here are some super small animals you don’t want to miss on your next visit to Shedd!

A tiny white-spotted shrimp stands with its tail pointed straight up.

Sexy Shrimp

Bright red (or sometimes green) with patches of white outlined in blue, sexy shrimp (Thor amboinensis) have a look as eye-catching as their name. Their name originates from the way they move. Coming in at about half an inch in length, sexy shrimp will hold their abdomen in the air and sway side to side to make themselves seem bigger to ward off predators. They live in anemones and eat the plankton and mucus that accumulates on the anemones’ tentacles. Spot sexy shrimp in Underwater Beauty!

A small white-spotted shrimp sits, tail raised, among algae.
A small white-spotted shrimp scuttles along with its tail held high.

Imitating Poison Dart Frog

Also known as a mimic poison dart frog, imitating poison dart frogs (Ranitomeya initator) measure less than an inch in length, or about the size of a human thumbnail. Though little, most poison dart frogs leave a bad taste in predators’ mouths, secreting a toxin for protection. But imitating poison dart frogs aren't as toxic as they might look.

Because the imitating poison dart frog’s toxicity is very mild, these tiny frogs imitate the bold colors and patterns of more poisonous frogs to protect themselves from being eaten, hence the name. They live in the eastern foothills of the Andes Mountains in Peru and eat small insects. Imitating poison dart frogs can be found in Amazon Rising!

Mimic poison dart frogs are tiny-- shorter than one's thumb, and rely on their bright patterns to warn predators off.
Tiny Mimic Poison Dart Frog sits atop a person's finger.

Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse

Measuring just more than 5 inches long, bluestreak cleaner wrasses (Labroides dimidiatus) are small but critical for the fishes and sharks that share their habitats. They reside in lagoons and coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific Ocean.

How do bluestreak cleaner wrasses survive when surrounded by animals so much bigger than them? They clean them! Bluestreak cleaner wrasses clean other fishes by removing parasites, dead skin and bits of food from the fins, gills and skin of reef predators. Sometimes, they even go so far as swimming into a shark’s mouth! To show other fishes that they’re ready to clean, bluestreak cleaner wrasses will wiggle their bodies and jiggle their tails. Fishes will form a line just to get cleaned! You can find these fish in both Wild Reef and Caribbean Reef!

A narrow-bodied cleaner wrasse with a black stripe running the length of its long blue body.
A small silver Cleaner Wrasse fish with a single black stripe.

Garden Eel

Garden eels spend their time burrowed in sandy slopes on the ocean floor in the Indian and west-central Pacific Oceans. Each eel has their own burrow within a colony of several hundred. Poking above the sea floor, these tiny tubular animals can look like seagrass to predators. They can measure up to almost 16 inches long, and are about as wide as a drinking straw, but because of their skittish nature, they rarely extend above the sand beyond a couple inches. When they do extend, it’s to catch drifting zooplankton to have as a meal, then they retreat back into their holes. See if you can spot both the Phillipine garden eel (Gorgasia preclara) and the spotted garden eel (Heteroconger hassi) in Wild Reef!

Two little yellow garden eels poke their heads from white sand.
Profile of a single Spotted Garden Eel with spots and a large yellow eye.

From the biggest whale to the smallest shrimp, all animals (humans included) have a part to play in our ecosystems. On your next visit to Shedd, see if you can spot these super small, yet essential, animals.

-By Nijah Marshall, Fall 2022 Digital Marketing Intern