The Mantis Shrimp holds an impressive list of superlatives in the natural world. These marine crustaceans (neither mantis nor shrimp but actually more closely related to crabs and lobsters) pack one of the most wicked punches in the animal kingdom. And many species have a specialist club at the end of their second pair of appendages, somewhat like boxing gloves!
They can attack prey with a jab at the same force as a .22 caliber bullet, the late, great Mohammed Ali could have learned a thing or two from these guys!
Mantis shrimp can grow to 45 cm long, one of this size could do some serious damage!
Over 450 different mantis shrimp species have been discovered so far, spread around the globe.
They tend to stay in burrows and rock crevices, waiting for their prey to swim past. This could be anything that the mantis shrimp can kill, from fish, worms and shrimp to other mantis shrimp!
As mentioned earlier, these aggressive sea creatures have some formidable weaponry at their disposal. Mantis shrimp are split into smashers and spearers. Although most species are spearers, arguably the most famous mantis shrimp – the Peacock mantis shrimp – is a smasher.
The difference between the 2 types is the type of appendage they use to disable and inevitably kill their chosen prey. Spearers have long barbed snares whereas smashers have fist like clubs.
Smashers have possibly the coolest mode of attack in the animal kingdom. When they strike, they strike with such force that they easily smash the hardest crab and clam shells. Due to the unbelievable velocity they can strike with (measured at 50mph, underwater, from 0mph to 50mph in less than 5cm) the water reaches incredible temperatures and literally boils away creating a vacuum and a shockwave which is enough to kill, even if the mantis shrimp misses.
These shrimp impact their prey at a force of 1500 Newtons! If we could accelerate our arms at 1/10 that speed we would be able to throw a baseball into space!
As well as slightly different designs, they have different hunting techniques. Spearers are mostly ambush predators, preferring to stay in the safety of their home however smashers will actively seek out prey, and promptly smash it to pieces!
One account of a man walking through shallow water tells of an attack by a mantis shrimp, no laughing matter! He stepped on a 14 inch mantis shrimp which very quickly struck his foot, spearing through his trainer and into his foot. When help arrived it was thought he had been bitten by a shark as the water had gone bright red. The entire top of one foot was split open and required 30 stitches!
The mantis shrimp’s most famous attribute has to be its extraordinary vision. Humans can see what we see because we have 3 photoreceptors (light-detecting cells) in our eyes, red, green, and blue. To put things in perspective, dogs have 2 photoreceptors (green and blue) and birds have 4 photoreceptors (UV, red, green, and blue). Mantis Shrimps can have up to 16, yes 16 photoreceptors in their eyes, allowing them to perceive the world in an unimaginable way.
As well as perceiving colors we can’t even imagine, mantis shrimp have a secret coded language that no other living creature can see. Specialized cells on appendages that are marked with blue spots can receive polarized light (that most creatures can’t see) and distribute it across the spots to communicate with other mantis shrimp without anything else noticing.
Although they have this secret language that wouldn’t be possible without their specialized language, scientists are still trying to understand why the mantis shrimp has such a complex visual system, and what exactly they use this specialized vision for.
Mantis shrimp are an underwater menace, and for this reason have few natural predators, however they are edible and so are caught as food. In spite of this they are considered low-risk or of least concern of going extinct.
The combination of some very dangerous weapons and its incredible vision puts the mantis shrimp up there as one of the most intriguing animals in the sea.
Article written by TerraMar’s Education Development Intern – Tom Carr