Often spotted scurrying across the ocean floor or peering out from their carefully constructed burrows, alien-like mantis shrimp are always a joy to see. These intriguing, carnivorous crustaceans come in a wide range of sizes and colours, and although some live in temperate waters, most species live in the tropical and subtropical waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. However, don't be fooled by this microscopic critter's name, as mantis shrimp are also one of the ocean's most deadly predators. Here's our top ten mantis shrimp facts to help you spot them and keep your thumbs and cameras safe...
1. Mantis Shrimp Are Neither Shrimp nor Mantis
Contrary to their name, mantis shrimp are neither shrimp nor mantises. They are classified as stomatopod crustaceans and are a distant relative of the shrimp.The mantis part of their common name is an ode to their adapted forelimbs, which resemble terrestrial praying mantises.
2. There Are Over 450 Species of Mantis Shrimp
While the peacock and zebra mantis shrimp are the most common species spotted by divers, there are over 450 different species varying in size and colour. They are divided into two main groups, depending on the type of modified forelimb they possess...
3. Smashing vs Spearing Mantis Shrimp
The two main types of mantis shrimp are the smashers and the spearers. Spearing mantis shrimp hunt by impaling their prey on spear-like forelimbs, while smashing mantis shrimp kill their prey with a powerful blow from a club-like appendage at the end of their forelimbs.
Spearing mantis shrimp usually make burrows in sand, and when they get hungry, they sit at the top of the hole with just their heads poking out. Should a suitable fish get too close, they will end up impaled on their spear-like forelimb.
Smashing mantis shrimp, like the peacock mantis shrimp, tend to make their burrows among coral rubble, often with an entrance at each end.
4. Some Mantis Shrimp Possess Deadly Clubs
The clubs at the end of a smashing mantis shrimp's forelimbs are formidable weapons. Boasting the fastest strike in the animal kingdom, the victim stands very little chance. Not only are they struck by the club itself, but the speed of the movement creates vapour-filled bubbles in the water -[li1] known as cavitation bubbles - exerting considerable force on its prey.
5. Mantis Shrimp Can Break Aquarium Glass
Smashing mantis shrimp have been known to punch their way through aquarium glass, giving rise to an alternative name, 'the thumb splitter.' The speed with which they can punch creates forces of up to 1,500 newtons, which has been known to smash thick, tempered aquarium glass. Take this as a word of warning to not get too close with your expensive camera dome! Bonus mantis shrimp fact: their punch is as strong as a .22 calibre bullet!
6. Mantis Shrimp Are Inspiring Military Innovation
Scientists have been baffled by mantis shrimps remarkable ability to evade injury while being able to punch so hard. The speed of a mantis shrimps strike movement should cause shock waves through its body. However, they are also armed with layers of elastic polysaccharide chitin, which absorbs much of the energy.
The effectiveness of this layer has led to scientists to research its properties and design new and improved body armour.
7. Mantis Shrimp Have the Coolest Eyes
A mantis shrimp's eyes are found at the end of stalks and, in addition to looking cool, they afford the mantis shrimp unparalleled vision. Their eyes can move independently of each other and are believed to be the most complex eyes in the animal kingdom.
While we humans have three types of photoreceptors in our eyes, the mighty mantis shrimp have between 12 and 16 different types of photoreceptor cells. This allows them to see ultraviolet, visible and polarized light.
8. Mantis Shrimp Are Older Than the Dinosaurs
Biologists believe stomatopods split from other crustaceans and began evolving separately around 400 million years ago. Meanwhile, dinosaurs didn't turn up for around another 170 million years. This separate evolutionary path has given them a wholly unique appearance, giving rise to an alternative name, the 'shrimp from Mars.'
9. Mantis Shrimp Are Highly Intelligent
Mantis shrimp are one of the few animals that have demonstrated the ability to learn. In one experiment, mantis shrimp were placed in darkened tanks containing black flasks for them to seek shelter. In repeat experiments, the mantis shrimp were able to find the sanctuary of the flask quicker each time they were in that situation, seeming to remember where the flask was hidden.
10. Where to Find Mantis Shrimp
While they can be seen throughout the world's tropical waters, Indonesia and the Philippines have an abundance of smashing peacock mantis shrimp and spearing zebra mantis shrimp. They're commonly encountered in shallow water, with the peacock mantis shrimp often seen scurrying out in the open among sections of coral rubble. Their vivid red and green colours help them stand out against the dull rubble, and they are the easiest mantis shrimp to find. If you're really lucky, you may even happen across a peacock mantis shrimp clutching its bright red egg mass, an opportunity to snap the Holy Grail of mantis shrimp shots!
When cruising over sandy areas, keep an eye out for the burrow of the zebra mantis shrimp, which tend to be a few inches wide and easily visible. However, if the spearing mantis is hungry and sitting at the top of the burrow, they can be easily missed as the colouration of the mantis shrimp will blend in with the surrounding sand.