The mantis shrimp is arguably one of the ocean’s most aggressive, yet fascinating crustaceans. Sounds like an oxymoron right…fascinating crustacean? Here’s where you’re wrong. With a punch that kills, the mantis shrimp is one crustacean that you don’t want to mess around with.
Currently, there are 400 known species of mantis shrimp worldwide. One of the most visually impressive mantis shrimp species is the peacock mantis shrimp (Odontodactylus scyllarus). This species is most commonly found in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The peacock mantis shrimp’s shell exhibits bold hues of red, green, orange, and blue (seen in the above image). Its forearms are adorned with spots.
The Mantis Shrimp’s Incredible Punch
Mantis shrimp, ounce for ounce, have one of the fastest and most powerful punches. Its club like appendages, resembling the limbs of a praying mantis, can break through the shells of its prey with ease. Quarter inch glass doesn’t even stand a chance to the punch of this crustacean. The mantis shrimp’s arm acts like a spring-loaded weapon, storing energy until it is ready to kill. Its punch has the same force as a .22-caliber bullet. It takes only less than three-thousandths of a second to throw a punch with 1,500 Newtons of force. The appendages move so fast that the punch cannot be seen with the naked eye. Only in slow-mo could you see the movement. To put things into perspective, if we could move our arms just one-tenth that speed, we could launch a baseball into space. The punch happens so fast that water surrounding the appendage boils during a process known as supercavitation. When the punch is thrown, the surrounding water cavitates, or vaporizes, forming bubbles. The bubbles eventually break, causing a small implosion that creates heat. The water surrounding this action can become several thousand Kelvins in temperature. Light is also produced during supercavitation, an effect known as sonoluminescence.
The Complex Eyes of the Mantis Shrimp
The punch isn’t the only unique morphologic feature of the mantis shrimp. For as shrimpy as these creatures are, they have some of the most complex vision of any organism on the planet. Mantis shrimp have something known as hexnocular vision. As humans, we have two eyes with one focal point each. Mantis shrimp, on the other hand, have two eyes with 3 focal points each. This means that each mantis shrimp eye is divided into 3 sections and can see 3 different images. It can also move each eye independently. These multiple focal points allow the mantis shrimp to see in 3-D using just one eye. In addition to the multiple focal points, mantis shrimp have many light sensitive cells in their eyes that allow them to see in the ultra violet and infrared spectrum. They have sixteen different color receptive cones – humans only have three. Imagine the rainbow a mantis shrimp sees!
This incredible vision also allows them to see different forms of polarized light. The shrimp have different flashy colors on their bodies that they display to each other. They use a completely novel way of polarizing light. Their polarizer is incredibly thin – 500 times thinner than the polarizers in objects such as cameras and sunglasses. Researchers at the University of Bristol in the UK are looking into this shrimp’s advanced polarizing technology. According to Nick Roberts, sensory biologist at the university, the thinner polarizer that the mantis shrimp has could be a “game changer for next generation computer chips.” These chips are known as optical chips and use photons to perform calculations. The research team at the university investigated how the shrimp create light by examining their shells with an electron microscope. The end goal from this research on the mantis shrimp and its polarizing technology would be to develop self-assembling polarizers on a microscopic or even nano scale that could be placed onto photonic chips.
Despite our fascination with this highly complex crustacean, mantis shrimp aren’t your typical aquarium dwellers. For one, housemates sharing a tank with a mantis shrimp wouldn’t last very long. Mantis shrimp tend to be fairly territorial and often act aggressively toward intruders. Their diet consists of prey often larger than themselves. They like to feast on gastropods, crabs, and mollusks. Mantis shrimp would have very few friends in an aquarium tank. Second, and maybe even more important, the shrimp could punch more than just his tank mates – the walls of the tank are at risk as well! So long story short, if you encounter this fella, stay out of his way!