Why the Mantis Shrimp Rocks
So by now we're all familiar with the mantis shrimp (right?), if by no other avenue than the brilliant and funny comic by The Oatmeal (The best post about mantis shrimp on the Internet. If you haven't seen this, by all means, go read it now).
We've seen the structure of the mantis shrimp's carapace used in research and development of high-tech lightweight body armor that flattens bullets.
And of course we're well aware of its legendary capacity for extreme violence. The mantis shrimp has been known to terrorize aquariums, smashing away at any barnacle, snail, and hermit crab that so much as looks at it the wrong way. Nano-Reef, a hobby aquarist forum, strongly advises against housing multiple mantis shrimp in one tank, as "they will eventually fight [...] even mating mantids will generally kill each other over time."
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If being such a fascinating and terrifying animal wasn't enough, the mantis shrimp is also stunningly beautiful. The Peacock Mantis Shrimp (Odontodactylus scyllarus) is aptly named, reminiscent of its colorful avian namesake, but with some extra style points for the leopard-like spots on its shell. It's a prismatic badass.
Although named for its resemblance to both praying mantis and shrimp, the mantis shrimp is neither; it's a stomatopod, in fact only a distant relative of crabs, shrimps, and lobsters. Stomatopods can be loosely divided into two groups based on how they kill prey with their raptorial appendages (I just want to say that over and over again, it sounds so badass). But just wait: the badassery gets better.
The first group of the stomatopods is the smashers. The Peacock Mantis Shrimp fits into this category. Using a skeletal catapult-like mechanism, the creature is able to use its arms to smash prey at speeds approaching 50mph--and if you weren't already suitably impressed, recall that this is all happening against water resistance.
The second group is the spearers. Unlike the smashers, they use a muscular mechanism to deploy their harpoon-like weaponry, and it happens much more slowly at around 5mph. The Gorlock Mantis Shrimp (Lysiosquillina lisa) is one such spearer.
Spearer mantis shrimp are way less commonly known because they tend to live in muddy ocean floor burrows rather than on rocky or coral reef (like the smashers). Where smashers hunt and stalk prey, spearers are ambush predators, preferring to lie in wait for the opportune moment to whip up some seafood souvlaki.
The mantis shrimp smashes aquarium glass and bludgeons hermit crabs, makes kebabs of cephalopods and murders its mates. It can see wavelengths of light that we can only imagine, and its very biology provokes advancements in our military technology. And it does all this behind a flashy façade that would be right at home at Milan's Fashion Week.
It's a kaleidoscope mixed with a sniper rifle. It's Lady Gaga meets Chuck Norris. And it's real.
The existence of mantis shrimp is just one more example of why the ocean so rocks my world.
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