MANTIS SHRIMPS ARE PARTICULARLY AGGRESSIVE CRUSTACEANS with exceptional traits. One is their ability to smash hardshelled prey with lightning strokes. As this awesome Smithsonian Channel video shows, the mantis shrimp punch is perhaps the strongest, fastest left hook in the ocean.
The mantis headlines earlier this year focused on their complex eyes and exceptional vision (seethe Poseidon’s Web post How Mantis Shrimps See – With Polarity). Even more impressive – and worrisome to fishermen who may accidentally bring them aboard in their nets – is their power and speed (You can read about mantis shrimps in depth in the Poseidon’s Web post from a couple of years ago, “Mantis Shrimps – Tough, Strong and Hot!”).
CRUSTACEANS WITH ENLARGED CLAWS
First of all, mantises are only distantly related to shrimps, as simply fellow crustaceans. The mantis part reflects their possession of enlarged foreclaws, or “dactyls,” resembling those of praying mantis insects. These are key to the effectiveness of the mantis shrimp punch. You could argue that as fellow arthropods, they’re very, very distantly related to the insect.
Like all good crustaceans, mantis shrimps are equipped with antennas, stalked eyes and bodies with three distinct sections – head, thorax and abdomen – protected by exoskeletons of hard, chitinous plates that they periodically replace through molting. They have three pairs of walking legs and four sets of abdominal appendages that are feather-like gills.
IT’S THE DACTYLS, STUPID
But it’s those foreclaws that give the mantis its fearsome power. They have (relatively) large hammer-like heels they use to pound hard-cased animals like crabs and snails with enough force to break them up.
Large ones have been known to bust through aquarium glass. It’s believed they can strike 50,000 times between molts without serious damage, shooting their hammers out at the speed of a bullet.
ON THE OTHER HAND, SOME JUST STAB
There are some 400 species of mantis shrimps in the Earth’s oceans, including a few in the Caribbean/Atlantic and hundreds in the Indo-Pacific.
A lot of them smash. But some are spearers, not smashers. Their dactyls have as needle-sharp spines with which they impale soft-bodied victims like fishes, shrimps, even squids (and unfortunate fishermen’s hands).
Regardless, it’s probably not a good idea not to meet mantis shrimps in a dark alley.
PRINCIPAL SOURCES: The Fastest Punch in the World, Smithsonian Channel; Crustacea Guide of the World, Helmut Debelius; Journal of Experimental Biology: “Extreme impact and cavitation forces of a biological hammer: strike forces of the peacock mantis shrimp Odontodactylus scyllarus,” S. N. Patek and R. L. Caldwell.