Hilton Head Island is home to America’s most valuable and popular seafood—shrimp!
It’s a good thing that shrimp season is almost year-round with harvests lasting from March through December.
The area has two primary species of edible local shrimp: brown shrimp and white shrimp.
White shrimp, which are more abundant, have light-colored bodies and black tails with bright green or yellow margins at the base. They are harvested during the summer and fall. Brown shrimp have notes of red, blue or dark green pigments on their tail and body and are more commonly harvested in the spring through early summer.
Shrimp spawn in the near beach waters, up to a few miles offshore. A single female may produce between 500,000 to 1 million eggs, several times during a season, but less than 2 percent of these eggs will survive to adulthood. After spawning, eggs sink to the ocean floor. Within 12-24 hours, the eggs hatch into shrimp larvae.
The white shrimp spawn in the spring and early summer, while brown shrimp most commonly spawn in the fall.
The young larvae pass through 10 different larval stages before heading inland to their nursery habitat. It is thought that upwellings of warm water in late February and March carry the white shrimp larvae into the tops of salt marsh estuaries with high tides. The post-larval shrimp stay in these areas for two-three months, eating and growing.
During high tides, the young shrimp feed among the marsh grass and then return to the estuary bed at low tide to elude predators. Every time the young shrimp grow, they must molt to accommodate their new body size. When the shrimp are about four inches long, they return to the salty ocean to begin the spawning process again.
Shrimp have three major modes of locomotion.
When resting or feeding, they travel very short distances using their walking legs. Shrimp are known to be omnivorous bottom feeders, which means they don’t have to travel far for food.
To travel long distances, such as during migration, shrimp have swimming legs located under their abdomen and have been known to swim up to five miles in a single day. Shrimp also have a form of movement referred to as the “tail flex.” This is a very quick contraction of the tail and abdomen which propels the shrimp backwards. This motion is commonly used as a self-defense mechanism.
Written by Kathleen McMenamin.
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