YOUR WEEKLY DOSE OF WOWZERS AND WONDER FROM THE NATURAL WORLD
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This week’s featured creature is one of the strangest looking guests in our newsletter so far.
Living in the Great Barrier Reef off Australia’s coast and other shallow tropical areas, these colourful crustaceans are neither shrimp or mantis. But they’re definitely cool.
Let’s head to the reef and see what they’re all about!
Also called stomatopods, mantis shrimp average about 10cm (3.9 inches) in length.
These vibrant reef dwellers resemble a mix between a lobster’s rear and a crab’s front.
They’re thought to be older than dinosaurs, evolving nearly 400 million years ago.
More than 550 different mantis shrimp species are known today, with colours ranging from dull browns to flamboyantly colourful rainbows.
They live in burrows in the soft sand of warm, shallow saltwater pools and are known for keeping their holes meticulously clean.
They’re also fiercely territorial, emerging from their holes to surprise food and potential foes alike.
And don’t let their small size fool you. These little guys pack a mean punch — quite literally.
Depending on the exact species, they’ll either have spear-like front claws or bulbous club claws.
Either way, they can use them with deadly efficiency. Their strike has been measured at 83 km/h (51mph) and is fast enough to create vapour-filled bubbles in the surrounding water.
This can cause a shock wave that can knock out small fish and other prey!
If you happen to see a mantis shrimp in person one day, you should probably steer clear. They don’t have the nickname “finger splitters” for no reason.
That’s not their only superpower, though.
Stomatopods also have some of the most complex eyes of any living creature on Earth.
They have between 12 and 16 types of photoreceptor cells in their eyes. That’s 4 to 5 times more than we do as humans.
This means they can see colours we can’t, and scientists have discovered that they use this to communicate using secret flashes and signals which other fish cannot see.
Your best chance of seeing a mantis shrimp is on nature documentaries, online videos, or in newsletters like this.
That’s because mantis shrimp make horrible tank mates.
They can break most glass tanks unless they’re made with a special shatterproof acrylic glass!
If their reputation isn’t enough to ward off potential predators, mantis shrimp can emit a low rumble. It’s almost like an underwater growl. They do this most often while hunting and at dawn and dusk. Scientists believe the rumble attracts mates and scares off competing stomatopods.
Scientists found the powerful punch of the mantis shrimp so fascinating that they’ve extensively studied the clubs of peacock mantis shrimp. They found that the shell includes special materials that act as shock absorbers, preventing cracks and injuries.
Most mantis shrimp avoid the most crowded areas of reefs and lagoons, actively seeking out the quiet places on the outskirts instead. They’ll typically spend their entire life with a single partner, raising a family, hunting, and building burrows in relative peace.
The complex eyes of the mantis shrimp generate so much more information than our own. But their brains should get some credit too. It can process this information so fast that mantis shrimp can respond to a threat almost instantly!
Check out the colourful — but deadly — peacock mantis shrimp in action in this video by National Geographic Wild.
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