information on the biology of species and the ecology of habitats found around the coasts and seas of the British Isles

Chameleon prawn (Hippolyte varians)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.



Hippolyte varians is a small of prawn up to 3.2 cm in length but usually less. The colour is variable (as its common name suggests) from red, brown, green, flecked reddish-brown or almost transparent with red and yellow blotches depending on its habitat. This species rostrum is straight or slightly upturned at the tip, which is undivided. The rostrum is nearly as long as the carapace bearing a single tooth on its upper surface. There is a spine or tooth just above, and two spines below each eye. Hippolyte varians may also posses tufts of setae on the upper carapace and abdominal segments (pleonites). The first pair of thoracic limbs (pereiopods) are distinctly shorter than the other 4 pairs. The telson of this species has two pairs of lateral spines.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Hippolyte varians is widely distributed around the coasts of Britain and Ireland, but is more commonly recorded in the south than north and probably under recorded.

Global distribution



This species can be found in rock pools, gullies, amongst algae and Zostera beds from the lower shore down to 150 m depth.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • Up to 3.2 cm in length.
  • Variable in colour: red, brown, green, flecked reddish-brown, almost transparent with red and yellow blotches.
  • The rostrum bears a single spine on its upper surface.
  • A spine above each eye.
  • The telson has two pairs of lateral spines.

Additional information

The chameleon prawn uses its variable colouration as camouflage during the day, but all turn a transparent bluish-green at night independent of habitat (Moen & Svensen, 2004). This species breeds throughout the year with increased intensity during the summer months. Hippolyte varians may be infected by the bopyrid isopod Bopyrina ocellata (Smaldon, 1993).

The tufts of setae present on some individuals of Hippolyte varians led Gosse (1853) to classify it as a differenent species; Hippolyte fascigera. However, this was later invalidated by Chassard-Bouchard (Smaldon, 1993).

Listed by

- none -

Further information sources

Search on:


  1. Bruce, J.R., Colman, J.S. & Jones, N.S., 1963. Marine fauna of the Isle of Man. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

  2. Crothers, J.H. (ed.), 1966. Dale Fort Marine Fauna. London: Field Studies Council.

  3. Fish, J.D. & Fish, S., 1996. A student's guide to the seashore. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  4. Hayward, P., Nelson-Smith, T. & Shields, C. 1996. Collins pocket guide. Sea shore of Britain and northern Europe. London: HarperCollins.

  5. Hayward, P.J. & Ryland, J.S. (ed.) 1995b. Handbook of the marine fauna of North-West Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  6. Howson, C.M. & Picton, B.E., 1997. The species directory of the marine fauna and flora of the British Isles and surrounding seas. Belfast: Ulster Museum. [Ulster Museum publication, no. 276.]

  7. MBA (Marine Biological Association), 1957. Plymouth Marine Fauna. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom.

  8. Moen, F.E. & Svensen, E., 2004. Marine Fish & Invertebrates of Northern Europe. Southend-on-Sea: Aqua Press.

  9. National Biodiversity Network (NBN) Atlas website. Available from:  Accessed 01 April 2017

  10. Picton, B.E. & Costello, M.J., 1998. BioMar biotope viewer: a guide to marine habitats, fauna and flora of Britain and Ireland. [CD-ROM] Environmental Sciences Unit, Trinity College, Dublin.,

  11. Smaldon, G., 1993. Coastal Shrimps and Prawns. The Linnean Society of London. Shrewsbury: Field Studies Council. [Synopses of the British Fauna No. 15. 2nd Ed.)]


This review can be cited as:

Rowley, S.J. 2008. Hippolyte varians Chameleon prawn. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. (eds) Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 16-01-2018]. Available from:

Last Updated: 08/05/2008