The Big Blue Ocean Exploration

Aquarium’s new critter packs a pulverizing punch

Mantis shrimp strikes with speed of bullet; it'll be isolated because the last one eluded capture while smashing to bits other creatures on display

The Monterey Bay Aquarium has added a colorful new creature that must be kept alone in its exhibit because of the extraordinary power contained within its lobster-like body. Even though the peacock mantis shrimp will have no company, it was with trepidation and not-so-fond memories that the California facility decided to place one on display.

Peacock mantis shrimp (c) Monterey Bay Aquarium

Peacock mantis shrimp; photo courtesy of Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder

That’s because the last time a mantis shrimp resided at the aquarium, in 2001, it unleashed a months-long period of carnage that was reported by more than 200 newspapers and just about every major news network.

It was one of two mantis shrimp stowaways that arrived in the Splash Zone galleries hidden in rocks delivered from Florida. While the first was quickly captured, the second four-inch “killer shrimp” remained elusive and proceeded to pulverize sea snails, hermit crabs, barnacles, and other display critters.

Their parts littered the bottoms of tanks.

Unbelievable?

Not when you consider what the aquarium staff was dealing with: a critter that, ounce for ounce, packs what might be the most powerful punch of any critter, in or out of the ocean.

Within the mantis shrimp’s shell are hinged arm-like claws, with fist-like clubs at their ends. They lash out with the speed of a .22-caliber bullet—the fastest punch in the world—and literally smash its prey (see accompanying video).

As the Monterey Bay Aquarium reported this week on its blog, these claws can shatter clam shells, crack open crab shells, break glass,  and even deliver a knockout blow to an octopus or a fish.

But mantis shrimp are also beautiful, remarkable creatures, worthy of display even if isolation from other creatures is necessary.

“The claws are made of material so hard it can deliver 50,000 blows between molts—without breaking,” the blog post states. “It’s being studied by scientists as a model for crafting super-strong body armor for soldiers.

“And it moves its claws so fast that they turn water into plasma and sound into light.”

The blog notes that the mantis shrimp is the “new favorite animal” of renowned cartoonist Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal.

Of the critters’ remarkably sensitive vision—they can see in both infrared and ultraviolet spectra, and use 16 receptor cones versus just three for humans—Inman observed:

“Where we see a rainbow, the mantis shrimp sees a thermonuclear bomb of light and beauty.”

The aquarium blog concluded: “We hope you’re fascinated, too, at the chance to see a peacock mantis shrimp face to face—on the other side of shatterproof acrylic.”

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