An in-depth exploration of these mantis shrimp facts reveals a unique species due to its distinct features and behaviors that have attracted biologists worldwide.
A notable fact about mantis shrimp is they can detect an array of light beyond the capacity of humans, including ultraviolet light. Another fact revolves around their claws, which strike as fast as a bullet. Read on for more fascinating mantis shrimp facts.
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Despite its name, the mantis shrimp is not a shrimp. They are also not praying mantis. They are sea dwellers that measure two to five inches long, and their biology and taxonomy reveal the true nature of these aggressive animals.
You're most likely to find mantis shrimp in warm tropical and subtropical waters, skulking around the sea bed in habitats that range from coral reefs and rock formations to burrows in sandy or muddy substrates.
These intriguing creatures belong to the Stomatopoda order, while shrimp, crabs, and lobsters belong to the Decapoda order. This notable divergence illustrates the mantis shrimp's unique evolution within the taxonomy group Crustacea.
Unlike typical shrimp, mantis shrimp are aggressive carnivores with lethal claws. Moreover, their vision far surpasses that of regular shrimp.
The mantis shrimp's diverse color colors come from a complex interplay of pigments in their exoskeleton and light interference. Notably, they look like an undersea rainbow, like someone has painted mantis shrimp bodies.
Consider the peacock mantis shrimp. This species of mantis shrimp is a walking spectacle, thanks to light's interaction with its shell's minuscule structures. However, these colors are not for show; they are a secret language mantis shrimp use to communicate, particularly when attempting to court a mate.
Despite their striking appearance, mantis shrimps are also adept at concealing themselves. For example, the Peacock Mantis Shrimp can blend seamlessly into their surroundings, helping them avoid predators or catch unsuspecting prey.
Meanwhile, The Zebra mantis shrimp (Lysiosquillina maculata) is named for its striking stripes, an array of black and white bands that traverse along its body. This color combination aids in camouflage within its coral reef and sandy bottom habitats.
Mantis shrimp have existed on Earth for around 400 million years; fossil records indicate that they predate the first dinosaur by 170 million years. These crustaceans have evolved on a distinct path from other crustaceans, resulting in features that appear almost otherworldly.
Despite their nickname as the "shrimp from Mars," mantis shrimp are invaluable parts of the planet's marine ecosystems.
Two distinct categories of mantis shrimp populate the Indian and Pacific Oceans: those who spear their prey (spearers) and those who crush them (smashers). Appropriately, their monikers align with their different hunting techniques3.
First, spearing mantis shrimp have agile, imposing, spiny claws capable of striking unsuspecting fish and worms. Their sleek bodies enable them to blend in with their surroundings and remain undetected until the right moment to strike with their spiny appendages.
On the other hand, smashing mantis shrimp are robust creatures with round bodies and powerful club-like claws. These claws can shatter the shells of a mantis shrimp's prey, like crabs and mollusks. Moreover, they have unparalleled striking speed and force, making them the dominant predator in rocky marine environments.
The mantis shrimp has earned the moniker "Mike Tyson of the Sea" because it is the fastest puncher in the world. Even the fastest human boxer cannot replicate its punching speed. No other living being on the planet can throw a comparable punch.
Inside the shrimp's claw is a mechanism like a coiled spring, carrying immense potential energy when it releases the "latch," the kinetic energy pushes the claw forward faster than you can blink.
Naturally, the mantis shrimp uses its powerful punch as its primary weapon, cracking open crab shells, among others. However, this animal would rather posture or bluff against other mantis shrimp instead of fighting. Perhaps they exercise restraint because they know the damage their punches can inflict.
Incredibly, a mantis shrimp punch is as powerful as a bullet fired from a 22-caliber gun. This animal can break glass, including that of an aquarium, so researchers put them in shatterproof acrylic glass enclosures.
A mantis shrimp's dactyl clubs are natural boxing gloves composed of a hard mineralized material that is exceptionally resistant to impact. Moreover, this creature avoids hurting itself because its clubs have layers of elastic polysaccharide chitin, which act as shock absorbers. Spear like
Why is the mantis shrimp's punch so strong? Its swings produce cavitation bubbles or tiny pockets of superheated gas. Upon impact, the bubbles pop, triggering shockwaves that amplify the punch's power. Even if the mantis shrimp fails to hit its target, the shockwaves from its powerful punch can still kill or immobilize it.
This ocean-dwelling creature can detect colors beyond the ability of humans. While humans have only three photoreceptor cells for color vision, the mantis shrimp has a remarkable 16 light-sensitive cells. Moreover, this unusual creature can detect light waves in the ultraviolet range, which humans cannot do.
Furthermore, researchers from the University of Queensland have discovered they can detect polarized light2. Unlike other species, the mantis shrimp uses polarized light to spot prey, avoid danger, or find mates in the vastness of the sea.
Mantis shrimp eyes are sharper than an eagle's. Notably, this marine animal owns the most advanced visual systems in the animal kingdom. For example, their ability to detect polarized light enables them to spot rogue cells or the difference between cancerous and healthy tissue. As such, they may be able to detect early warning signs of cancer before they become visible tumors.
Studying the matter further, the researchers created a camera sensor, a proof-of-concept that emulates the mantis shrimp's capacity to perceive polarized light.
This study might allow for early detection of cancer cells. Moreover, the innovation could help humans explore neural activity. Similar to cancer cells, polarized light has different reflective qualities when interacting with active or inactive neurons.
Certain species of mantis shrimp engage in long-lasting monogamous partnerships that can persist for up to two decades.
By pairing up, these creatures can expand their territories beyond the relative safety of coral reefs to less crowded areas with fewer predators. Relocating to sandy seabeds or rocky outcrops indicates a shared living experience.
Paired mantis shrimp live together in the same burrow, establishing a cooperative lifestyle that benefits both partners. By living together, the mantis shrimps protect each other and share parenting responsibilities, such as caring for eggs and their young after the eggs hatch.
For example, partners take turns hunting or defending the burrow. Likewise, a monogamous relationship keeps these animals from constantly seeking mates, limiting their exposure to danger.
Like the terrestrial praying mantis, the female mantis shrimps eat the males after mating. While this behavior is unusual for animals, particular circumstances help explain it.
One theory suggests that cannibalism is part of a primitive strategy, where the female gets a nutritional boost from the male and helps her successfully produce eggs. While this behavior might look cruel, it is a survival technique that helps females produce healthy offspring thanks to added essential nutrients.
Moreover, another fascinating hypothesis suggests that a female eating her mate stops the male from mating with others, increasing her chances of producing offspring. However, not all instances of mating end with the male getting devoured. Sometimes, the male can escape fast enough to avoid the female's attack, enabling him to live another day.
Researchers from the University of Illinois and Washington University collaborated to develop a camera prototype that emulates the mantis shrimp's complex eyes and extraordinary vision1. Unlike a conventional point-and-shoot camera, this miniature marvel can measure light's intensity and polarization, posing game-changing implications.
Besides revolutionizing early cancer detection, this shrimp-inspired camera could offer a novel way to study celestial bodies by detecting polarized light. Meanwhile, the mantis shrimp has also inspired the creation of a new type of military body armor.
Related read: More biomimicry examples.
Despite their intriguing characteristics, mantis shrimp rarely come up in conversations regarding marine conservation. Interestingly, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified them as species of "least concern." This classification means mantis shrimp remain abundant despite significant threats to marine life.
However, this status does not guarantee their safety indefinitely. For example, increasing coastal development and marine pollution threaten their habitat in tropical and subtropical waters. Although their population has not declined, the risk level could increase without corrective measures.
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Garcia, M., Edmiston, C., Marinov, R., Vail, A. L., & Gruev, V. (2017). Bio-inspired color-polarization imager for real-time in situ imaging. Optica, 4(10), 1263,
Chiou, T.-H., Kleinlogel, S., Cronin, T., Caldwell, R., Loeffler, B., Siddiqi, A., ... & Marshall, J. (2008). Circular polarization vision in a stomatopod crustacean. Current Biology, 18(6), 429-434.
Patek, S. N., Korff, W. L., & Caldwell, R. L. (2004). Deadly strike mechanism of a mantis shrimp. Nature, 428(6985), 819-820.