The Remarkable Mantis Shrimp

​ The only thought that most people give to shrimp is how they taste in a shrimp cocktail or a shrimp scampi. There are thousands of species of shrimp and lots of them taste good.

​ But some of them are remarkable creatures, and one is really amazing, the many species called the Mantis Shrimp.These shrimps live in tropical waters worldwide. They are given their name because they resemble the insect called the praying mantis. The praying mantids (there are 2,400 species) have forelegs shaped into a formidable snapping claw. They stay still and when a prey insect come close, the forelegs snap at it with remarkable speed to capture prey like grasshoppers. The mantis shrimps do roughly the same thing.

​ The mantis shrimps are remarkable for two things: one, how they capture their prey, and two, for their quite amazing eyesight.

​ Mantis shrimps are divided into two broad groups, the stabbers and the clubbers. The stabbers have forelegs like spears and when prey comes close, they suddenly reach out and impaleit, usually a fish or invertebrate, with remarkable speed.

​ The clubbers are equally remarkable. They have one calcified appendage that behaves like a club. It strikes with remarkable force, and can demolish the shells of crabs, oysters, snails, and mollusks. The club is powerful enough to shatter the glass in aquariums. It also strikes with remarkable speed, one of the fastest movements known in any living creature, with an acceleration about the same as a .22 caliber bullet leaving a gun.

​ The shrimp’s club moves so fast that it creates a vacuum behind it called a cavitation bubble. The physics of cavitation bubbles as they collapse produces a wave of heat and a pressure wave enough to kill a fish if the club misses. The shrimps are mostly small, about 6 inches, but the club can injure a person not handling a shrimp carefully. They make interesting occupants of an aquarium but have the habit of eating everything else in thecontainer. They are often quite colorful combinations of red, green and black. One species is so colorful that it is called the Peacock Mantis.

​ Another oddity is that some of the shrimps mate for life and may stay a pair for 20 years. In one species, the female lays two clutches of eggs, one tended by the male and one by the female.Other species are solitary.

Their vision is unusual. The mantis shrimps’ eyes are on stalks, and the eyes see far more colors than we humans do. The human eye can see three colors, but the mantis shrimp has from 12 to 16 different kinds of photoreceptors and can see a much wider range of colors than people can. They also can see and utilize the complex optics of polarized light. Why they have such superb vision is unknown. One speculation is it helps them judge the phases of the moon which influence tides, and that may connect with mating activities.

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