BIOTIC Species Information for Callianassa subterranea
Researched byLizzie Tyler Data supplied byUniversity of Sheffield
Refereed byThis information is not refereed.
Scientific nameCallianassa subterranea Common nameBurrowing mud shrimp
MCS CodeS1415 Recent SynonymsNone

PhylumCrustacea Subphylum
Superclass ClassEumalacostraca
SubclassEucarida OrderDecapoda
SuborderPleocyemata FamilyCallianassidae
GenusCallianassa Speciessubterranea

Additional InformationThere are two common species of Callianassid prawns in Europe: Callianassa subterranea and Callianassa tyrrhena. Callianassa tyrrhena is larger in size, up to 67mm and is whitish in colour with pink or blue spots, sometimes greenish grey. Ingle (1997) reports Callianassa tyrrena to be a synonym of Callianassa subterranea.
Taxonomy References Hayward & Ryland, 1995b, Hayward et al., 1996, Ingle, 1997,
General Biology
Growth formArticulate
Feeding methodSurface deposit feeder
Sub-surface deposit feeder
Environmental positionInfaunal
Typical food typesOrganic content of sediment particles. HabitBurrow dwelling
Bioturbator FlexibilityHigh (>45 degrees)
FragilityFragile SizeSmall-medium(3-10cm)
HeightInsufficient information Growth Rate6-9.5 mm in the first year.
Adult dispersal potential100-1000m DependencyIndependent
General Biology Additional InformationGrowth rates
Rowden & Jones (1994) estimated that Callianassa subterranea could achieve a carapace length of 6.5 mm by the end of the first year. They noted that other estimates were similar and cited growth estimates of 6 mm, 8 mm and 9.5 mm in carapace length in the first year.

Feeding method
Callianassa subterranea is a sub-surface deposit feeder. Feeding takes place entirely within the burrow and once a burrow is established, much of the subsequent burrowing activity is for the purpose of obtaining food. Although it has been suggested that Callianassa subterranea is also a facultative filter-feeder (Nickell & Atkinson, 1995) and may 'garden' bacteria within its burrow detailed behavioural studies reveal the species to be a genuine deposit feeder (Stamhuis et al., 1996). Sediment is processed before ingesting and so contains a larger silt fraction than the sediment.

The density of Callianassa subterranea individuals varies between 2 and 60 shrimps per m² (Künitzer et al., 1992). Although population density of Callianassa subterreanea is often high, Rowden & Jones (1994) observed individual shrimps to be aggressive and intolerant of each other. The role of such aggressive behaviour may be important to the regulation of population density. It is also suggested that shrimp population density may control aspects of burrow morphology. In the laboratory, Callianassa subterranea showed self-inhibiting burrow construction. Burrows were smaller when individuals were present in high densities (Rowden & Jones, 1995).

The bopyrid isopod Ione thoracica resides in the branchial chamber beneath the carapace of Callianassa subterranea. A significant enlargement of the carapace allows for easy identification of those individuals suffering from such parasitism. Potential effects of bopyrid infestation are the prevention or reduction of maturation of eggs in females and reduction of testes and slenderization of the primary chelae in males (Rowden & Jones, 1994).
Biology References Rowden & Jones, 1994, Künitzer et al., 1992, Nickell & Atkinson, 1995, Atkinson, 1989, Stamhius et al., 1996, Rowden & Jones, 1995, Atkinson, 1988, Astall et al., 1997, Hayward & Ryland, 1990, Julie Bremner, unpub data,
Distribution and Habitat
Distribution in Britain & IrelandRecorded distribution is limited to the south coast of Britain, west coast of Scotland and a single site in the Kenmare River area, in southern Ireland. However, Callianassa subterranea is likely to be more widespread than records suggest.
Global distributionThe species has a geographical distribution from the Mediterranean Sea to the coast of Norway.
Biogeographic rangeNot researched Depth range0 - 20 m
MigratoryNon-migratory / Resident   
Distribution Additional Information
  • Callianassa subterranea is likely to be more widespread than records of adults suggest. Many observations of the deep-burrowing habit of the species indicate that the adults will usually be unavailable to conventional benthic sampling equipment (Atkinson & Nash, 1990) because of the depth of the shrimps burrows.
  • Burrows in mud are relatively simple and deep (30-81cm) compared to those in sandier sediments which tend to be shallow and complex (Rowden & Jones, 1997). These differences may be related to the associated food content of the substratum.

Substratum preferencesMuddy sand
Sandy mud
Physiographic preferencesOpen coast
Offshore seabed
Strait / sound
Enclosed coast / Embayment
Biological zoneSublittoral Fringe
Upper Infralittoral
Lower Infralittoral
Upper Circalittoral
Lower Circalittoral
Wave exposureSheltered
Very Sheltered
Extremely Sheltered
Ultra Sheltered
Tidal stream strength/Water flowModerately Strong (1-3 kn)
Weak (<1 kn)
Very Weak (negligible)
SalinityFull (30-40 psu)
Habitat Preferences Additional Information
Distribution References Hayward & Ryland, 1995b, Hayward et al., 1996, Atkinson & Nash, 1990, Rowden & Jones, 1997, Hayward & Ryland, 1990, Julie Bremner, unpub data,
Reproduction/Life History
Reproductive typeGonochoristic
Developmental mechanismPlanktotrophic
Reproductive SeasonSpring and summer Reproductive LocationAs adult
Reproductive frequencyBiannual episodic Regeneration potential No
Life span1-2 years Age at reproductive maturity1 year
Generation timeInsufficient information Fecundity
Egg/propagule size Fertilization typeInsufficient information
Larval/Juvenile dispersal potential>10km Larval settlement periodInsufficient information
Duration of larval stage1-2 months   
Reproduction Preferences Additional Information
  • Female Callianassa subterranea brood eggs on their pleopods.
  • Most sexually mature females collected from the southern North Sea were ovigerous in July and August suggesting a summer breeding season for Callianassa subterranea. The proportion of ovigerous females declined during April and September, and no females with eggs were collected in October (Rowden & Jones, 1994). Approximately one month after the peak occurrence of ovigerous females, post larval abundance is highest, implying that newly-hatched larvae have about four weeks in the plankton before being recruited to the benthic population. However, post larvae were also relatively abundant in April which supports evidence from Witbaard & Duineveld (1989) of a double reproductive cycle. Large or old females (9 mm carapace length, 2 years old) were ovigerous in February and post larvae common in April. Lindley (1987) found no Callianassa subterranea larvae in the North Sea plankton for late winter or early spring which also supports the suggestion of a double reproductive cycle. However, Rowden & Jones (1994) suggest that the absence of larvae between the two peaks may be because Callianassa subterranea adopts an alternative life-history strategy of direct benthic development during this period. Such benthic larval development has been observed for Callianassa kraussi in South Africa
  • Rowden & Jones (1995) observed the influence of the sex of Callianassa subterranea upon burrow structure. Resin casts of burrows produced by females had consistently fewer surface openings than those of males. The reason for this difference is unknown.
Reproduction References Rowden & Jones, 1994, Witbaard & Duineveld, 1989, Lindley, 1987, Rowden & Jones, 1995, Julie Bremner, unpub data,
About MarLIN | Contact, Enquiries & Feedback | Terms & Conditions | Funding | Glossary | Accessibility | Privacy | Sponsorship

Creative Commons License BIOTIC (Biological Traits Information Catalogue) by MarLIN (Marine Life Information Network) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license are available at Note that images and other media featured on this page are each governed by their own terms and conditions and they may or may not be available for reuse. Based on a work at