Animals I Won’t Be Messing With: Mantis Shrimp

XFE and I were watching some documentary on some channel last night (I know, I’m practically a living, breathing TV Guide) because apparently we’d already watched all the really awesome shows in the Gypsies genre (or, more truthfully, were recording them for later, non-commercial viewing).

Anyway, this documentary was about this total badass shrimp called the mantis shrimp. The documentary was particularly timely because we’d had delicious huge grilled shrimp for dinner.

Mantis shrimp2

But Mr. Johnny Mantis Shrimp is a straight up gangsta thug. I’ll let Wikipedia tell you why:

Called “sea locusts” by ancient Assyrians, “prawn killers” in Australia and now sometimes referred to as “thumb splitters” – because of the animal’s ability to inflict painful gashes if handled incautiously – mantis shrimp sport powerful claws that they use to attack and kill prey by spearing, stunning, or dismemberment. Although it happens rarely, some larger species of mantis shrimp are capable of breaking through aquarium glass with a single strike from this weapon.

I think I just peed myself a little bit. Breaking an aquarium glass? I can’t even break the seal on a jar of peanut butter. Seriously, if it wasn’t for that little white ring tab thing on my new carton of half-and-half this morning, there would have been creamer carnage all over the kitchen. Even with the pull tab, I struggled.

Also: I do not want my thumb split. That sounds really, really awful. Prior to learning this little fact, one of my biggest heeby-jeeby-inducing fears was falling on my face and cracking my tooth, but now, having my thumb split open is quickly moving up the list.

And now I’m walking around with my thumbs tucked safely into my palms, all four lesser digits cupping tightly around my vulnerable hitchhiking phalange.

On this documentary, we saw these little freaks crushing other sea life that appeared larger than them. They were way aggressive, chasing down crabs and then WAPOW! Oh, and they eat other Mantis Shrimp as well. They showed one that had just eaten a rival and he was pushing the empty shell of his species mate out of his burrowing hole like he was taking out the trash.

The scientist on this documentary were also measuring the strike velocity, which is apparently one of the fastest movements of any animal on earth, and is complete in about 8 milliseconds, which is about 50 times faster than the blink of a human eye. They’re like the Jean Claude Van Damme of the sea world.


None of this is reassuring either:

Mantis shrimp are long-lived and exhibit complex behavior, such as ritualized fighting. Some species use fluorescent patterns on their bodies for signalling with their own and maybe even other species, expanding their range of behavioral signals. They can learn and remember well, and are able to recognize individual neighbors with whom they frequently interact. They can recognize them by visual signs and even by individual smell.

Lucky for all of us, some of these delightful little killers are found in the Chesapeake Bay, which is a bit too close for my comfort.

In case you need some visual explanations, this really useful infographic on The Oatmeal should frighten you. Or, check out the video below: (THAT’s right, it was NatGeo that was airing it.)


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