Meet the Snail-Smashing, Fish-Spearing Mantis Shrimp

Contrary to their name, mantis shrimp aren’t actually shrimp. They belong to another group of shelled critters called stomatopods that split from other crustaceans about 400 million years ago. However, like their land-based namesake, the preying mantis, they use their lightning-fast forelimbs to snag a meal.

Mantis shrimp apply two main strategies — spearing or clubbing. The “spearers” are ambush hunters that conceal themselves in sand or rocks and spring out suddenly to impale passing fish with sharp spear-like forelimbs. The “clubbers” tend to be more direct, using a hammer-like forelimb to bludgeon the hard shells of other crustaceans and mollusks until they crack open.

“Clubbers” fling their appendages forward so quickly and violently that they actually create cavitation bubbles, tiny pockets of vaporized water that implode inward, creating heat, light and sound. These bubbles can be incredibly destructive, even damaging the hard metal of boat propellers, which also create them. Imagine what they do to the shells of snails and crabs!

Watch the video from KQED’s Deep Look series above to learn more about the amazing abilities of these aggressive little crustaceans.