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                Fuku-Bonsai trademarked:  "Micro-Lobsters"  and "The Amazing Hawaiian Micro-Lobsters!" to differentiate our creatures who are inhabitants of coastal anchialine brackish water ponds. These ponds are in relatively young lava flows that have indirect connections to the sea.  The hot sun beats down upon the ponds and the alga mat stores the energy of the sun.  The water rises and falls with the tide. They are endemic to Hawaii and available in greatest numbers on the Big Island of Hawaii.  

                "OPAE-ULA" is a Hawaiian name for "red shrimp" and botanical manuals will list a common name as the Hawaiian Red Anchialine Pond Shrimp. In Hawaiian if the words are taken separately "OPAE" is a small shrimp and "ULA" is used for all forms of lobsters.  We've taken promotional license and coined MICRO-LOBSTERS! Full grown adults are only 1/2" and the photo below shows them larger than life-size.

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             The original photo (and much of the botanical information below) is courtesy of John P. Hoover, author of HAWAII'S SEA CREATURES; A GUIDE TO HAWAII'S MARINE INVERTEBRATES.  The photo was taken of the Maui variety which are known to be paler than the Big Island variety and computer enhanced by Fuku-Bonsai to add details and  color contrast. Color  is determined by red chromatophores. After an extended period underground or when frightened, the chromatophores contract and they appear white with a tinge of pink.  When in the sun (or under some lights) and in a non-stressed state, Micro-Lobsters become an attractive dark bright red.    


                Animals with backbones are vertebrates and those without backbones are invertebrates.   Invertebrates are grouped into phylum and insects, crabs, lobsters and shrimps with jointed legs and external skeletons belong to the vast phylum Arthropoda (meaning "jointed legs").  Phyla are divided into classes and classes within Arthropoda include insects (class Insecta); spiders (class Arachnida); and lobsters, crabs, and shrimps (class Crustacea).  Classes are further divided into orders, then families, then genera, then species and subspecies. Arthropods are the largest single group of animals with probably a million species, most of them insects.

Hoover spiny lobster 4x4.72dpi.jpg (32699 bytes)          CRUSTACEANS are aquatic and most are small. Their jointed appendages include walking legs, claw-bearing limbs, antennae, appendages around the mouth, pleopods or swimmerets. They also have an exterior skeleton and from time to time, must molt to allow for growth. After a period of growth, hormones cause the shell to split and the crustacean crawls out.  Later, in hiding, it releases other hormones to cause its body to swell  and create a new shell. It's believed that mating takes place just after molting and the two activities may be linked.   Molting takes place to allow for growth.  Growth shows there is adequate food to require molting. 

          (Left photo)   A Hawaiian Banded Spiny Lobster (Panulirus marginatus) is a choice delicacy. Those who can obtain them prefer them over Maine lobsters.  Unlike Maine lobsters, tropical spiny lobsters don't have massive claws.  Photo courtesy of John P. Hoover 

         Of the many classes of crustaceans,  the large diverse class Malacostraca includes shrimps, lobsters, hermit crabs, true crabs, mantis shrimps, and many other groups.

Hoover book cover 4x6.72dpi.jpg (39045 bytes)             Decapods ---shrimps, lobsters, crayfishes, and crabs --- form the largest order and include almost all commercially important crustaceans. Decopod means "ten-footed."  OPAE-ULA belong to the Atyidae family of shrimps that occur in brackish or fresh water. Their biological name is Halocaridina rubra Holthuis, 1963 that was accurately described by L.B. Holthuis in 1963. There are relatively few papers published in the scientific journals. 

           Much of the biological information above was gleaned from HAWAII'S SEA CREATURES; A GUIDE TO HAWAII'S MARINE INVERTEBRATES by John P. Hoover. 1998 by John C. Hoover. 366 pages; 6"x9" with 100's of excellent color plates. Library of Congress Catalog Number 98-68053; ISBN 1-56647-220-2 softcover; first printing, March 1998;  Mutual Publishing, 1215 Center Street, Suite 210, Honolulu, Hawaii 96816. Phone ((808) 732-1709, FAX (808) 734-4094; Email:;  URL:  This is a companion sequel to John Hoover's best-selling guide HAWAII'S FISHES.

           The author John P. Hoover kindly allowed reproduction of the two photos above.


                This is the most numerous small shrimp in the near ocean anchialine ponds.   Until a few years ago, no one paid attention to them. Kona fishermen netted them to use as "chum." This is a fishing technique in which small amounts are thrown into the water to attract akule, a Hawaiian form of mackerel. At first just a few appear, but with skilled chumming, the numbers around the small boat grew and the fish begin a feeding frenzy according to the skill and amount of chum being thrown. While the fish were occupied, others surrounded the entire school with a long net and a huge school of akule could be captured using this method. If smaller quantities are needed, a lift net could be used. These fishermen carefully guarded and took care of their anchialine ponds and the opae-ula continued to be available for their needs. 

ML anchialine 5 Koi Seaside Hilo Aug 03.jpg (32537 bytes)            Friends recall in their youth seeing opae-ula in their natural swimming pools and never bothered with them. Throughout the coastline from Hilo to Kapoho around Cape Kumakahi past Volcano, Kau, South Point and all throughout the Kona Coast to Kohala, there were an abundant amount of opae-ula that were netted to feed ornamental aquarium fish. But today, very few or no opae-ula are seen in the natural ponds once exotic fish are introduced. The valuable oceanfront ancialine ponds are being filled in for development. The loss of habitat is the greatest danger. The photo shows koi in a natural anchialine pond.

                Each person has their own standards of beauty and the large colorful Japanese Koi are enjoyed by residents and visitors.  If a person earned the wealth to purchase near ocean properties and prefer to grow Koi or other food fish in the natural anchialine ponds, shouldn't they have a right to do so?  If corporations want to build resorts,   should the law be different from a private residential landowner? These are questions that Hawaii is struggling to find reasonable answers.

                There are times when ponds seem to have a huge abundance of opae-ula while at other times very few are seen. Our observation and study suggests an explanation.  We believe that opae-ula are seen in abundance when they are close to the natural population limit of the pond as determined by the amount of food available. It is likely that the food supply fluctuates and that temperature affects the breeding cycle. If the food supply increases due to seasonal or other factors, it is likely that the opae-ula will molt and start their breeding cycle. They will then migrate to their underground crevices until they release their eggs. A few weeks later, a large number of post-larval juvenile are noticed.

                Opae-ula are very sociable and cluster tightly together. In aquarium tanks with sponge filters, they concentrate on the filters and it is likely that they are feeding on the filter bacteria. This is also noticed in the Micro-Lobster breeding tanks at Fuku-Bonsai.   At times,  an entire tank seems almost empty, but the few that are seen are red. When the tank is fed, pale Micro-Lobsters emerge to feed. The majority are pale and well over 90% were in the molting --- breeding --- egg-laying activity. 


                Micro-Lobster is Fuku-Bonsai's tradename for the creature specifically identified as "Halocaridina rubra Holthius 1963." Opae-ula is a victim of development that accelerated after Hawaiian statehood in 1959. It was only scientifically described and identified in 1963. A few years later the Queen Kaahumanu Highway on the Big Island directly connected the port of Kawaihae to Kailua-Kona,     The highway created the Kona-Kohala "Gold Coast" that is steadily becoming the premier Hawaii State visitor destination area.

                The Big Island is the last major Hawaiian island to be developed and we want the Big Island reflect the best of Hawaiian culture and values. While several of the resorts have done laudatory work,  Mauna Lani Bay & Bungalows has created an exemplary resort with deep sensitivity.  There, the anchialine ponds and the ancient fishponds are lovingly preserved and celebrated.  We congratulate and commend Kenneth Brown and his associates for their great work.  Future articles in this website will tell more about their efforts.

                The largest number of anchialine ponds are located on the Big Island of Hawaii.  Prior to the opening of Queen Kaahumanu Highway,  a survey found that the anchialine ponds were in pristine condition. Since the highway opened, additional roads have been built and much of the coastline is now accessible. The anchialine ponds have suffered and it is estimated that on a statewide basis,  over 95% of the anchialine ponds can no longer support opae-ula!  

                As resorts and roads are built, ponds are filled.  Some are converted into beautifully landscaped fish ponds and the fish clean out the opae-ula.  Other ponds are used for recreation and bathing and become polluted. Fishermen throw their left over live bait shrimp into the ponds.  When guppies, mollies, tilapia and other exotic fish are thrown into the ponds, they also eat the opae-ula.   Without the opae-ula, the algae in the ponds overgrow and with increase growth of exotic plants and weeds, pond are compromised.   It is clear that opae-ula cannot flourish when under pressure of predators. 

                The exotic fish can be eliminated using rotenone.  Even before the rotenone dissipates,  the opae-ula start to recolonize the ponds.  The challenge is to establish management priorities as to what will be allowed to live in the anchialine ponds.  Fortunately community and school groups are adopting ponds and restoring them.  Rotenone is effective in removing exotic fish and even before it dissipates, the opae-ula return. There is need for preservation, education, and restoration.   There's also a need to research and develop mass culture systems.


               There are several anchialine pond shrimp. Opae-ula are the most numerous and believed to be the only herbivore that feeds primarily on the alga mat and bacteria.   It will also eat insects that fall into the pond. Native Hawaiians once fed them vegetable foods including sweet potato, taro, and breadfruit. It is believed that all other anchialine pond shrimp are carnivores which feed upon opae-ula. Opae-ula are different from the others in being small, social, and a herbivore that feeds principally on the alga mat and bacteria. They are filter feeders and have been known to mass feed on the water surface in such numbers that the water appears red. This may be the basis of Hawaiian legends that tell of "water turning into blood."  

               The second most numerous anchialine pond specie is larger, has prominent pinchers like a Maine lobster, and is much more difficult to maintain in an aquarium.  As part of our general research, we've prepared a landscaped tank with an undergravel biological filter with a breeding colony of opae-ula.  We will introduce several "Anchialine Pond Predator Shrimp" to study how the two species interact, to determine whether the Predator Shrimp is exclusively carnivorous, and if the two species can co-exist. 

                There are relatively few published scientific papers on opae-ula and this website is already the largest source of opae-ula information easily accessible to anyone. At times the ponds seem totally empty, but at other times they appear in such numbers that the bottom of the shallow ponds appear red with an estimated density of fifty in a single square inch!  They are extremely sociable creatures and never seen fighting. It is believed that their epogeal activity in the bright anchialine ponds are for soaking up the sun and storing away energy. 

                Opae-ula have very sensitive nervous systems and are known to die from shock when a tank falls or if subjected to a very loud noise. They seem to need places to quickly and easily hide, and if given those places,  they quickly gain confidence and half or more may be visible most of the time. They very quickly adapt to some tanks and exhibit very comfortable behavior in full visibility. They will usually be in groups on the top of rocks with many engaged in swimming laps.  Generally, Fuku-Bonsai's Micro-Lobster breeder tanks have this type of behavior and the creatures seem to become comfortable in their new home within a day or two after being shipped. 

                But in other tanks they are almost always hiding and exhibiting very skittish behavior.    Movements are very jerky and at times, several may explosively propel themselves backwards in a move that we've come to call "pop-corning!" Members of our Micro-Lobster Team include those who have both our breeder tanks and other opae-ula jars or aquariums.  Several have grown them longer than we have and through email correspondence,  they're sharing their knowledge.

                As another issue,  should the collection of opae-ula be regulated like other fish stocks to prevent over harvesting? Should there be limits to the amount an individual can collect for non-commercial usage?  Should the laws requiring commercial licenses be enforced if opae-ula are sold?  For the past several years in Hawaii,   opae-ula ecosystems and aquariums have increasingly been sold in stores and at craft fairs.  Current Hawaii law requires both commercial collectors and dealers to be licensed, but most do not know of the regulations and the law is not being enforced. Fuku-Bonsai complies with all lawful regulations and this is detailed in a Micro-Lobster portal section titled: REGULATIONS & CHALLENGES.

                Fuku-Bonsai has already begun a captive breeding program and will increasingly be moving toward building mass culture systems.  We will also promote Micro-Lobster Breeder Tanks to individuals and educational institutions.  We are confident that these will assure that these lovable creatures will never face extinction!

***  Return to Fuku-Bonsai Home Page        ***  Return to the Micro-Lobster Home Page
***   Return to the Micro-Lobster Basics portal page       ***   Continue to The Anchialine Ponds Page
***   Go to the Micro-Lobster Mail Order portal page         ***  Go to Micro-Lobster Order Form
Fuku-Bonsai 2003, 2004         You are cordially invited to visit the home of the Micro-Lobsters at
     17-856 Olaa Road (PO Box 6000), Kurtistown, Hawaii 96760
     Phone (808) 982-9880;  FAX (808) 982-9883      Email:
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