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With the force of a hammer’s blow, a mantis shrimp can smash the shell of a large snail that it then devours for dinner. In captivity, mantis shrimp have been known to shatter glass aquarium walls with their powerful kicks.

Left: A mother Odontodactylus scyllarus carries her pink eggs in her mouth parts. She can put them down as needed, but can still strike while carrying them.

Right: Many species of mantis shrimp, such as Gonodactylus ternatensis, exhibit fluorescent colors to communicate. With ten pigments that can detect color, the eyes of the Mantis shrimp are the most sophisticated of any animal; human eyes have only three pigments.

Scientists now report that mantis shrimp deliver their blows at speeds of up to 23 meters per second, making them the fastest “striker” in the animal kingdom. Much of the speed comes from a special “spring” in the hinge of the leg that does the kicking.

From the Florida Keys, the species Odontodactylus havanensis. Mantis shrimp live in tropical waters throughout the world..

The mantis shrimp, also known as the stomatopod, is not related to shrimp. The crustacean earned the nickname because its hunting style recalls that of preying mantis insects and because it captures food in a shrimp-like manner.

The largest of all mantis shrimp, Lysioquillina maculata, can reach up to 40 centimeters in length. It is monogamous and the male (seen here) has enlarged spearing appendages for impaling passing fish.

All images are courtesy Roy L. Caldwell, University of California Berkeley.

— Kate Ruder

Patek, S.N. et al. Biomechanics: Deadly strike mechanism of mantis shrimp. Nature 428, 819-820 (April 22, 2004).

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