Mantis Shrimp Facts (Stomatopoda)

The shrimp that can shatter aquarium glass with its claw

Peacock Mantis Shrimp (Odontodactylus scyllarus) in coral reef
Peacock Mantis Shrimp (Odontodactylus scyllarus) in coral reef. Sirachai Arunrugstichai / Getty Images

The mantis shrimp is not a shrimp, and except for the fact that it's an arthropod, it's not related to the praying mantis, either. Instead, mantis shrimps are 500 different species belonging to the order Stomatopoda. To distinguish them from true shrimp, mantis shrimps are sometimes called stomatopods.

Mantis shrimps are known for their powerful claws, which they use to bludgeon or stab their prey. In addition to their fierce hunting method, mantis shrimps are also known for their extraordinary sense of sight.

Fast Facts: Mantis Shrimp

  • Scientific Name: Stomatopoda (e.g., Odontodactylus scyllarus)
  • Other Names: Stomatopod, sea locust, thumb splitter, prawn killer
  • Distinguishing Features: Eyes mounted on movable stalks that can move independently of one another
  • Average Size: 10 centimeters (3.9 in)
  • Diet: Carnivorous
  • Life Span: 20 years
  • Habitat: Shallow tropical and subtropical marine environments
  • Conservation Status: Not evaluated
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Subphylum: Crustacea
  • Class: Malacostraca
  • Order: Stomatopoda
  • Fun Fact: A strike from a mantis shrimp claw is so forceful it can shatter aquarium glass.

Description

There are over 500 species of mantis shrimps in a range of sizes and rainbow of colors. Like other crustaceans, the mantis shrimp has a carapace or shell. Its colors range from brown to vivid rainbow hues. The average mature mantis shrimp is around 10 centimeters (3.9 in) long, but some reach 38 centimeters (15 in). One was even documented at a length of 46 centimeters (18 in).

The mantis shrimp's claws are its most distinctive feature. Depending on the species, the second pair of appendage—known as raptorial claws—act as either clubs or spears. The mantis shrimp can use its claws to bludgeon or stab prey.

Vision

Stomatopods have the most complex vision in the animal kingdom, even exceeding that of butterflies. The mantis shrimp has compound eyes mounted on stalks, and can swivel them independently of one another to survey its surroundings. While humans have three types of photoreceptors, a mantis shrimp's eyes have between 12 and 16 types of photoreceptor cells. Some species can even tune the sensitivity of their color vision.

Peacock Mantis Shrimp (Odontodactylus scyllarus) eyes
Peacock Mantis Shrimp (Odontodactylus scyllarus) eyes. Sirachai Arunrugstichai / Getty Images

The cluster of photoreceptors, called ommatidia, are arranged in parallel rows into three regions. This gives each eye depth perception and trinocular vision. Mantis shrimps can perceive wavelengths from deep ultraviolet through the visible spectrum and into far red. They can also see polarized light. Some species can perceive circularly polarized light—an ability not found in any other animal species. Their exceptional vision gives the mantis shrimp a survival advantage in an environment that can range from bright to murky and allows them to see and gauge distance to shimmering or translucent objects.

Distribution

The mantis shrimp lives in tropical and subtropical waters worldwide. Most species live in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Some species live in temperate marine environments. Stomatopods build their burrows in shallow water, including reefs, canals, and marshes.

Behavior

Mantis shrimps are highly intelligent. They recognize and remember other individuals by sight and smell, and they demonstrate an ability to learn. The animals have a complex social behavior, which includes ritualized fighting and coordinated activities between members of a monogamous pair. They use fluorescent patterns to signal each other and possibly other species.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

On average, a mantis shrimp lives 20 years. During its lifetime, it may breed 20 to 30 times. In some species, the only interaction between males and females occurs during mating. The female either lays eggs in her burrow or carries them around with her. In other species, shrimp mate in monogamous, life-long relationships, with both sexes caring for the eggs. After hatching, offspring spend three months as zooplankton before molting into their adult form.

A peacock mantis shrimp carrying its egg ribbon, Anilao, Philippines.
A peacock mantis shrimp carrying its egg ribbon, Anilao, Philippines. Brook Peterson/Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

Diet and Hunting

For the most part, the mantis shrimp is a solitary, reclusive hunter. Some species actively stalk prey, while other wait within the lair. The animal kills by rapidly unfolding its raptorial claws with an astounding acceleration of 102,000 m/s2 and speed of 23 mps (51 mph). The strike is so quick it boils water between the shrimp and its prey, producing cavitation bubbles. When the bubbles collapse, the resulting shockwave hits prey with an instantaneous force of 1500 newtons. So, even if the shrimp misses its target, the shockwave can stun or kill it. The collapsing bubble also produces weak light, known as sonoluminescence. Typical prey includes fish, snail, crabs, oysters, and other mollusks. Mantis shrimps will also eat members of their own species.

Predators

As zooplankton, newly hatched and juvenile mantis shrimp are eaten by a variety of animals, including jellyfish, fish, and baleen whales. As adults, stomatopods have few predators.

Several species of mantis shrimp are eaten as seafood. Their meat is closer in flavor to lobster than shrimp. In many places, eating them carries the usual risks associated with eating seafood from contaminated waters.

Conservation Status

Over 500 species of mantis shrimps have been described, but relatively little is known about the creatures because they spend most of their time in their burrows. Their population status is unknown and their conservation status has not been evaluated.

Some species are kept in aquaria. Sometimes they are unwelcome aquarium denizens, as they eat other species and can break glass with their claws. Otherwise, they are valued for their bright colors, intelligence, and ability to craft new holes in living rock.

Sources

  • Chiou, Tsyr-Huei et al. (2008) Circular Polarization Vision in a Stomatopod Crustacean. Current Biology, Vol 18, Issue 6, pp. 429-434. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2008.02.066
  • Corwin, Thomas W. (2001). "Sensory adaptation: Tunable colour vision in a mantis shrimp". Nature. 411 (6837): 547–8. doi:10.1038/35079184
  • Patek, S. N.; Korff, W. L.; Caldwell, RL. (2004). "Deadly strike mechanism of a mantis shrimp". Nature. 428 (6985): 819–820. doi:10.1038/428819a
  • Piper, Ross (2007). Extraordinary Animals: An Encyclopedia of Curious and Unusual Animals. Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-33922-8.