The Fast and Furious – Mantis Shrimps

This article is not about the American street racing action movie directed by Justin Lin. Instead it is about a most incredible creature and the fantastic speed it is capable of reaching – a creature commonly called the mantis shrimp.  Not many people know much about the mantis shrimp or where it lives.

Actually it is not too difficult to find it if u know where to look.  Mantis shrimp typically like to live in shallow water of tropical and subtropical regions of the planet.  Most of species like to live in the excavated burrows, either built by their own or moving into a burrow built by some other organisms.

The colorful and beautiful creature that I found at Datai Bay in Langkawi measured around 7-10cm. But they can be bigger than this, with sizes that can reach up to more than 30cm depend on the species. Over the world there have about 450 species of mantis shrimp and approximately 30 species of fossil that are known, ranging between carboniferous to Holocene strata or period.  In Langkawi, those who are joining the trip to mangrove cruise can see these creatures at the fish farm cum restaurant and yes they are on the menu.

They were called as mantis shrimp because of the physical characteristic that resemble both the terrestrial praying mantis and the shrimp. That is why they do not seem like the normal shrimps even though they belong to the same phylum and class- crustacean and malacostraca.

Mantis shrimps are predatory creatures that posses a pair of modified forelimbs that have evolved into lethal weapons which are used in the capture of their prey. These large limbs are known as raptorial appendages. What is interesting about these appendages is that they can move to capture the prey by striking at them at incredible speeds. Some species, the striking movement takes between 4 to 8 millisecond, with their appendages moving at velocity of 390 inches per second. Can you imagine how fast that is? This is the fastest movement recorded by science in animal world.

Most species of the mantis shrimps have two mechanisms of how to attack and catch their prey.  First, they like to use a spearing technique in which the last joint of the appendages are modified to be spear- like with between 3 to 17 spines. Hiding in it burrow with only its eyes exposed the mantis shrimp waits in ambush for prey. This technique is used to capture the soft-bodied prey organism like fish.

The second technique that they can use to hunt their prey is smashing. This technique is applied when they try to hunt prey covered with a hard shell for example crabs, mollusks, hermit crabs and others. This high speed smashing technique can stun their prey and then crush its shell. The speed that they used to smashing and spearing their prey is equivalent to the speed of a small-caliber bullet.

Actually these fantastic creatures not only have incredible speed but they also possess an incredibly complex visual system. I will discuss this in the next article.

Post by Shahrizan (Shah) – Nature Guide