It is unlikely that a scuba diver in the Sea of Cortez will encounter a more alien and ornate decapod than the Cortez Barrel Shrimp, Gnathophyllum panamense. Also known as the Spotted Bumblebee Shrimp, this organism is difficult to confuse with any other Gulf of California shrimp species.

A downright beefy and glossy carapace is punctuated with large red or orange spots and smaller white polka dots. Accentuated by purple walking legs and white or yellow chelipeds and tail, the Cortez Barrel Shrimp appears to be an amalgam of highly disjointed parts.

Cortez Barrel Shrimp, Gnathophyllum panamense

Despite a wide range throughout the Sea of Cortez, from the tide pools of Puerto Penasco to the dive sites of Cabo San Lucas, scuba divers rarely sight the Cortez Barrel Shrimp. The ornate coloration of this shrimp is an excellent example of disruptive coloration and the bright splotches of color actually make the shrimp difficult for predators to visualize.

During the day, the Cortez Barrel Shrimp is reclusive and hangs on the undersides of rocky caves and caverns, or more commonly, underneath small rocks in rubble fields. Scuba divers most often catch glimpses of this beautiful creature during night dives when it emerges to feed. Little is known about the natural history of this shrimp. It has been reported to be a generalized omnivore, although it has also been reported to clean parasites off of fishes, as well as to consume the tube feet of echinoderms. While it is possible that this shrimp is more generalized than other members of the family Gnathophyllidae, it seems unlikely that this shrimp would be substantially different in diet than its kin, which are all starfish specialists.