The Mantis Shrimp: An Undersea Nightmare


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All right, let's get this out of the way now. If anyone, and I mean ANYONE, can find a more kick-ass awesome creature on this Earth than the mantis shrimp, I will tip my hat to you. For those of you who know what mantis shrimp are, you know where I'm going with this. For the likely majority of you who don't have any idea what I'm talking about, buckle up. This crustacean can take you for a wild ride.

Without a doubt, there is more sheer science involved with this creature's existence than any other organism that I am aware of. We begin with its eyes, which are widely regarded as the best in the world. You see, the mantis shrimp can see things that our brain could never be capable of processing. To elaborate, let me give you an ordered list of sorts:

4. Dogs are receptive to two colors: green and blue, allowing them to see blue, green, and a little bit of yellow

3. Humans are receptive to three colors: green, blue, and red, allowing them to see not only red, but all the colors that are derived from red

2. Butterflies are receptive to all the colors that we are, as well as two colors we don't have names for, and a massive spectrum of color that our brains aren't even capable of processing

But the mantis shrimp is in a league of its own. With the ability to detect SIXTEEN colors, as well as ultraviolet, visible, and polarized light, it is truly an ocular marvel. To put that into perspective, the rainbow we see stems from just three colors. Through the eyes of a mantis shrimp, it's composed of sixteen different colors and their variations.

That's only the beginning, though. You see, the mantis shrimp is also one of the most creatively violent animals on Earth. It possesses two raptorial appendages (or arms for short) on the front of its body, which, when prompted, can accelerate at up to 800 feet/second - equivalent to the velocity of a gunshot from a .22 caliber rifle. With this blinding speed, they can strike prey with 1,500 Newtons of force. If human beings could accelerate our arms at one-tenth that speed, we would be able to throw a baseball into orbit from the Earth's surface. Yet that isn't even the most impressive thing about their assault strategy. When the mantis shrimp springs into action, its limbs move so quickly that the water around them actually boils in a process known as supercavitation. When these cavitation bubbles burst, they produce underwater shock waves that are capable of killing prey even if the mantis shrimp completely misses its target. In addition, the force of these bubbles collapsing creates temperatures in the range of several thousand degrees Kelvin and emits tiny bursts of light in an effect known as sonoluminescence.

Mantis shrimp are also among the most physically resilient creatures to dwell on the ocean floor. So much so, in fact, that the military has long been looking into the cellular structure of their limbs as a means to develop new body armor and vehicle and aircraft frames. It has to be durable to withstand the impact of its own attacks; dismemberment is primarily how the mantis shrimp kills its prey, smashing apart crabs, mollusks, oysters, and octopi with its mighty hammer claws. Aquariums don't tend to house mantis shrimp for this same reason, as they have the potential to break the aquarium glass.

So, as you can see the mantis shrimp is nothing to be trifled with if you're a small aquatic creature. Packing the world's best eyes and the animal kingdom's most powerful punch is a lethal combination, regardless of your size. At little more than a foot in length, the mantis shrimp has managed to rise up and become the apex predator of the shallow tropical waters it inhabits.


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Citations:

Franklin, Amanda M. "Mantis shrimp have the world's best eyes--but why?." phys.org. The
Conversation, 4 Sept. 2013. Web. 6 Dec. 2013. <http://phys.org/news/2013-09-mantis-shrimp-world-eyesbut.html>.

"Mantis shrimp, peacock mantis shrimps, breaking glass, and other facts." planetsave.com. Sustainable Enterprises Media, Inc., 14 Apr. 2013. Web. 6 Dec. 2013. <http://planetsave.com/2013/04/14/mantis-shrimp-peacock-mantis-shrimps-breaking-glass-and-other-facts-video/>. 


Nealon, Sean. "'Armored caterpillar' could inspire new body armor." UCR Today. University of California, Riverside, 7 June 2012. Web. 6 Dec. 2013. <http://ucrtoday.ucr.edu/6737>.


3 Comments

This is incredible. I had no idea that there was a creature this awesome and terrifying in the sea. Seems like the Mantis shrimp have a bunch of desirable characteristics that should be closely studied. I recall reading an article over the summer (that I unfortunately can't find now) that talked about gene's found in the horseshoe crab. The Horseshoe crab is one of the oldest living organisms on earth and has been able to adapt and survive over the many many years. Scientists have been looking to isolate the gene that makes the crab so resilient to disease and illness. They think that it might be possible to genetically mutate the gene (once they find it) and introduce it to the human DNA to attempt a build up in resistance to natural diseases, illness, etc.

I've always loved the mantis shrimp because you have to wonder why this creature needed to evolve these amazing eyes and offensive capabilities.

My favorite sea animal is still the cuttlefish because of its amazing abilities at camouflage. Octopi are almost as good but cuttlefish have to be the kings: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=In7n590GjxU

Here's an short but impressive video of an octopus changing shape and color to look like other animals: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=os6HD-sCRn8

I agree with Jason's comment and I seriously wonder why the mantis shrimp needed to adapt in the ways that it did so that it can see so many colors and have such immeasurable strength. Check out this video of mantis shrimp taking on other crustaceans. It's impressive and also a tad scary how aggressive such a little shrimp can be: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-PShMgas-0

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