Mantis Shrimp macro – Odontodactylus scyllarus” by prilfish is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Written by Teehani Ralph

Teehani is converting cynics to physics without giving icks

Mantis shrimp. Vibrant crustaceans all dressed up in their best rainbow colours. An animal that is simply a visual treat. While they are a beauty for us to look at, what’s really interesting is how they see themselves.

As humans we have three colour-receptive cones in our eyes, allowing us to see all the colours we do on a daily basis. Meanwhile, butterflies have five, unlocking a whole world of colours we can’t even begin to comprehend.

Mantis shrimp have a casual SIXTEEN cones, making their eyes the most complex in the entire animal kingdom. Their eyes are equipped with world class colour and depth perception, polarisation sensitivity, oh, and cancer and neuron activity detection.

Beauty and brains. They are highly intelligent and exhibit complex behaviours such as: interacting with their neighbours, ritualised fighting, and bonding in life-long relationships. They can recognise and interact with their life-long partners using an impressive knowledge retention capacity.

They also contribute to the greater ecosystem by burrowing (when the seabed is soft) to assist the turnover and oxygenation of sediments. Additionally, their sensitivity to pollution allows them to act as a bioindicator of reef pollution. All of this combined makes them not only amazing, but incredibly important to the environment.

Mantis shrimp have been recorded to be up to forty-six centimetres long (equivalent to one and a half subway footlongs), making them one long creature full of beauty.

Smashing mantis shrimp” by Raymond™ is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

There are over 450 species of mantis shrimp, over 150 of which are native to Australia, and one of which moves by flipping in circles. This all leaves one obvious question: if these creatures are so stunning and have such cool talents, why do we not see them in aquariums? Well, they would break the glass tank and everything in it, of course.

“Break the glass?” You may be thinking, “But they’re just colourful little cuties, how could they do that?” And my answer would be, they’re not cuties at all. Oh no, they are the proud owners of the strongest punch in the entire animal kingdom.

A mantis shrimp is capable of producing a 15,000 Newton force, which is over 2,500 times its own weight. The acceleration of their punch is faster than a twenty-two-calibre bullet shooting out of the barrel of a gun. This allows these vicious carnivores to frequently – and successfully – take on fully grown octopuses as opponents.

These numbers all sound big, but let’s really put it in perspective. If human arms were capable of just one tenth of the acceleration of a mantis shrimp’s, we would be able to throw a baseball into earth’s orbit.

In fact, mantis shrimp move their appendages so fast that they are known to boil water. When punching at full speed in water, heated bubbles form, accompanied by a quick flash of light. The temperatures of these bubbles reach up to 4400℃ – not far off the temperature as the sun (5500℃)! This means they can kill their opponent with a shockwave even if their punch misses its target.

Still think that this forty-six centimetres long, rainbow coloured, killing machine sounds cute?

All of this leaves us with one colourful, talented, and highly, aggressive crustacean. That you probably still really want to meet.

Mantis Shrimp – Odontodactylus scyllarus” by prilfish is marked with CC BY 2.0.

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