Lowcountry Life

What Lurks Below: The mighty mantis shrimp

Mantis shrimp found washed up on a local Beaufort beach, by Melissa Taylor
Mantis shrimp found washed up on a local Beaufort beach, by Melissa Taylor

By Kelley Luikey | Fisherman and shrimpers have all sorts of nicknames for them. Thumb splitters, split toes and double enders are just a few. Commonly called mantis shrimp, there are over 400 species of these marine crustaceans but none are actually shrimp. Nor are they related to the land-dwelling praying mantis from which the other half of their name is derived. Rather they are members of the order stomatopods (shrimp are decapods and have “10 feet” and the stomatopods have “6 feet”). Because mantis shrimp spend most of their time lurking in their sand or mud burrows waiting for their next meal, we don’t commonly see them.

Mantis shrimp caught in Beaufort, by Kelley Luikey
Mantis shrimp caught in Beaufort, by Kelley Luikey

Exactly how a mantis shrimp captures its doomed prey is perhaps the most remarkable thing about them. Just like the praying mantis, the mantis shrimp is equipped with two specialized raptorial appendages that fold beneath its body. These powerful, spring-loaded weapons are ready to strike when the opportunity arises.

Simply put…the giant mantis shrimp is both an undersea nightmare and one of the most creatively violent animals on Earth.

Scientists have divided the mantis shrimp into two main types. The spearers and the smashers, depending on which method they use their raptorial limbs to capture prey.

The spearing type are equipped with sharp, barbed spikes on their appendages. With only its eyes protruding out of the opening of its burrow, the mantis shrimp will lie in wait for a suitable victim to swim overhead. When one is spotted, the raptorial claws unleash at the prey with astonishing speed and impale the soft-bodied target, generally fish, shrimp or squid. The unfortunate victim doesn’t stand a chance against its ferocious predator.

The smashing type, well you guessed it, they use their specialized appendages to smash their unsuspecting victims. These guys go after hard-bodied prey – clams, snails or even crabs – and basically punch them until they break open.

Put one in an aquarium and they can even break the glass.

The smashers obliterate their target with a strike some 90 times faster than the blink of a human eye; that would be roughly 55 miles an hour with a force equivalent to a twenty-two caliber bullet. Adding to their impressive martial arts resume, each time they strike they create cavitation. That is, they lower the pressure of the water and cause it to boil, creating bubbles. When the bubbles collapse, they unleash tremendous amounts of energy that cause implosions of heat, light and sound, a destructive force in and of itself. This can kill the target even if the mighty mantis shrimp missed.

Not convinced?
National Geographic filmed this incredible footage of one in action:

Yep, we’ve got several species of these remarkable creatures right here in Beaufort!

If you happen to pull one up while out on the water, handle it with caution or you just might find out first hand the meaning of one of those nicknames.

The peacock mantis shrimp is one of over 400 types of giant mantis shrimp
The peacock mantis shrimp is one of over 400 types of giant mantis shrimp
















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