Mantis Shrimps: Characteristics, properties, reproduction and more

We invite you to learn about the mantis shrimps or Odontodactylus scyllarus in scientific terms, which despite their small size have very developed and interesting features.

mantis shrimps : frontal view

Despite their namesake and relatively puny stature the mantis shrimps aren´t  shrimps at all. They’re stomatopods, distant relatives to crabs, shrimp, and lobsters.

The mantis shrimp  is one of the most interesting crustaceans found in the ocean. Scientists study their strength, molecular structure and their sight because they are all unusual, they are super-narrow!

Let´s start learning about them

Mantis Shrimps: Main Characteristics

These creatures measure about 10 centimeters in length, although some can reach up to 80 cm. Their carapace (the thick bony shell that covers and protects crustaceans and some other species) covers only their back and head, and the first eight segments of the thorax.

Moreover,they have powerful claws which they use to attack and kill prey by spearing, stunning, or dismembering them.

This fact makes them considered one of the most important predators of shallow, tropical and subtropical marine habitats.

However, despite being common, they are little known as many species spend most of their lives hiding in burrows and holes. As for their color, it varies from brown shades to vivid colors, as there are more than 450 species of mantis shrimps.

The Mantis Shrimps’ Claws:

Their second pair of thoracic appendages evolved over time, becoming powerful close-range combat claws. The appendix differences divide the Mantis shrimp into two main types: those who hunt by traversing and/or skewering their prey with spear-like structures, and those that crush their prey with a powerful stroke of a highly mineralized appendix in club shape.

This claw is divided into three sub-regions: The impact region, the periodic region and the striated region. Mantis shrimps are commonly classified into two distinct groups determined by the type of claws they possess:

The smashers possess a  much more developed claw and a rudimentary spear, which is however quite sharp and used in fights between their own kind.

They use this weapon to bludgeon and smash their prey.

Their claws work like a spring (similar to a crossbow) and when activated, they accelerate up to more than 50 miles per hour with a force of over 330 pounds ( up to 2500 times the mantis’ weight). If any object the size of a person could hit such strong, it would break the steel.

In turn, the lancer Mantis shrimps are armed with thorny appendages topped with spikes, which they use to traverse and engage their prey.

This type of mantis shrimps attack and eat soft meat animals such as fish and squid , and even use their claws in fights between males of the same species.

In addition to this in the inner part of the claw, (the Dactyl, which is the terminal portion) have a sharp edge, which allows them to cut their prey while swimming.

Attack Speed

Both types attack quickly by unfolding and balancing their predatory claws against their prey, causing serious damage on prey larger than them.

The smashers employ these weapons with blinding speed, with an acceleration of 102,000 m/s2, , and a speed of 23 m/s equivalent to the acceleration reached by a 22.78 caliber projectile.

The huge blow´s speed generates cavitation bubbles between the arm and the beaten surface.

Thus, in less than 800 microseconds, the smashers perform a quadruple attack: a physical blow from each hammer arm, followed by two bursts of bubbles from the cavitation.

The collapse of these cavitation bubbles produces forces on their prey of 1,500 Newton. Although the initial blow fails, the resulting shock wave may be sufficient to stun or even kill prey.

In addition to this, the blow can cause sonoluminescence, due to the collapse of the bubble, producing for a moment a small amount of light and a very high temperature that reaches thousands of Celsius degrees.

However, these phenomena dissipate almost instantly and are almost impossible to detect, without using advanced scientific equipment.

The crushing claws are used to attack snails, mollusks, crabs and oysters from the rocks, as their arms allow even the most resistant shells to be shattered with a single blow.

Just as they are strong the mantis lobster are very fast, having the fastest predatory attack of the ocean. It takes a little less than 800 microseconds to perform their killer movements.

So, the time a person takes to blink, the mantis lobster has already struck for 500 times. If a person could throw a baseball at this speed, it would reach the space.

The Attack’s Strength Structure.

To achieve a strong blow without breaking their claws, the mantis shrimps have a buffer core with a molecular structure that differs from any other animal known, called bouligand structure.

This structure allows them to strike repeatedly, while their carapace remains unbroken, preventing the small micro fractures that sometimes occur to them, from becoming a complete breaking of their claws.

The presence of crystalline calcium phosphate (the same mineral found in human bones) that surrounds the organic chitin fibers in the impact region, has a fundamental contribution throughout this process.

This skill is so effective, that researchers are trying to imitate the bouligand structure to design materials that are thin and light, but strong enough to stop explosives and also be part of stronger structures such as cars.

In addition, investigations are being carried out to create armors for soldiers, which could protect them from any type of attack, turning them into super soldiers.

In this sense we can mention the research that is being developed at the University of California, Riverside and Purdue University, led by Professor David Kisailus.

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The Mantis Shrimps’ Peculiar Eyes.

The mantis shrimps have the most complex eyes in the animal kingdom. They can  see the spectra of UV and infrared light. They have 16 types of photoreceptor cells, 12 of which are specialized for different colors.

Their eyes can move independently from each other, expanding their field of vision. Their eyes are divided into three parts that perceive movement, shapes, depth and color.

The male mantis shrimp can see the light in a different way than any other animal: they can see the circular polarized light, so for these crustaceans; it is as if they could put on a pair of 3d glasses to see with an additional layer of depth.

Researchers have not yet determined why the male mantis shrimp has this ability, but because it is a specific sex trait, the most probable reason is that it is related to mating.

 Eyes’ Structure.

Their eyes are each made up of 10,000 ommatidia, which are sensory units formed by cells, capable of identifying the presence or lack of light.

They also consist of two flattened hemispheres, one in each eye, which are separated by six parallel rows of ommatidia, which collectively is called the middle band and divides the eye into three different regions.

This fact allows them to see the same object with three different forms, possessing a 3D vision and depth perception. The hemispheres that are at the top have the function of recognizing shapes and movements and not the vision of color.

On the other hand, rows one and four of the middle band are in charge of color vision, taking the spectra from ultraviolet light to infrared vision.

The optical elements found in these rows have eight kinds of visual pigments, so the spectrum is divided into three different pigment epithelia, each adapted to perceive different wavelengths.

Likewise, levels two and three of the rows are separated by in-house color filters, which are subdivided into four different classes having two in each row.

They have a sandwich style formation, since they are formed by a level, a color filter of a class, a set of the same order, a color filter of another style and a last level.

In turn rows five and six are separated as before at different levels but with a single class of visual pigment, which specializes in the capture of polarized light with different planes of polarized light. Finally, there is the tenth class of visual pigment that is located in the dorsal and ventral hemispheres of the eye.

Here they are

Eyes’ Movements

But a curious fact is that the middle band covers a small portion of the visual area ranging between 5 and 10 ° at any given time. However, the eyes are on peduncles that have an unusually free movement and can be moved to all possible axes covering up to 70 ° of eye movement.

This movement is performed by eight individual muscles that are divided into six functional muscle groups.These muscles allow them to explore their surroundings, adding shapes that can´t be captured by the upper and lower hemispheres of the eyes.

Due to such system they are able to track objects in motion, by making large and rapid eyes’ movements, which they can also move independently.

Using a combination of different techniques their eyes can cover a wide range of visual field. With this specialized vision technique, they are able to recognize different species of prey that are usually transparent or semitransparent, as well as predators such as the barracuda that has shiny scales.

It should also be known that due to way they hunt moving their claws very fast, the mantis shrimps need precise information and a depth perception.

The Special Language of the Mantis Srimps.

In addition to the epic abilities mentioned above, the mantis shrimp is one of the only creatures capable of seeing polarized light. This fact has allowed them to develop a secret code that is undetectable for other species. The Haptosquilla trispinosa species of mantis shrimp possesses appendages called maxillipodes, that are marked with iridescent blue spots. Cells of these characteristics reflect light in a unique way.

Instead of bouncing light in a reflective structure like the polarized cells developed by humans, the cells distribute light through the point´s surface. The bright light is clearly visible to other mantis shrimps, which allows them to point out members of their species while staying hidden from predators.

The Mantis Shrimps Sounds

It is natural for a creature as fierce as the stomatopod, to have a threatening call. It is known that the mantis shrimps from California emit low and rumbling sounds, both in nature and at the laboratory. Male Mantis shrimps often emit grunts at dawn and dusk, the periods of the day when they are most likely hunting food or taking care of their homes. Scientists theorize that grunts are meant to attract teammates and alienate competitors.

 Mantis Shrimps’ Common Behavior

Mantis shrimps have a long lifespan and are characterized by being quite aggressive by what they receive the name of boxers, as they are able to execute fast and violent attacks. In addition,they are predatory animals able to consume in a voracious way  all kinds of animals.

Their behavior is so aggressive that it has been known of some specimens that have been able to break with a single blow the glass of the aquarium. But in spite of their aggression they are usually little known animals because in their natural habitats they spend most of their life inside their burrows and holes being hidden.

They are quite  solitary, limiting themselves to wait that some prey will pass near their lair to kill and eat it. According to the Mantis lobster species, they may present daytime, nocturnal, or twilight behavior.

But mainly the mantis lobster has a rather complex behavior, having attitudes like ritual struggle between males. Many of them have a strange social behavior that they use to defend their territory from rivals.They have a good memory, being able to recognize the neighboring individuals that interact with them more frequently, recognizing them by their visual signs but even also by their particular smell.

Some species are able to use fluorescent patterns in their bodies to give signals to their own species and to the other species, in order to expand the distribution area where the signals of their behavior are distributed. They have a peculiar way of moving, using their hind legs to take momentum and roll to where they want to go. Mantis shripm can reach distances of up to two meters in each impulse, but the common thing is that they travel shorter distances as of half a meter.

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 The Mantis Shrimps Distribution


Almost all species inhabit tropical and subtropical seas, such as the Caribbean Sea and the Indian and Pacific oceans. But this distribution can vary according to the species and can be spread in other parts of the world as at the Hawaiian Archipelago.


How Mantis Shrimps Feed On?

They are known for being very voracious predators of very aggressive behavior so their diet is very varied, consisting of fish, mollusks, squids or other crustaceans. In some cases they can get to practice cannibalism.

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How Do Mantis Mantis Srimps Reproduce?

When the mantis shrimps are in a mating period, they have an active fluorescence in their carapace, and the wavelength produced is the same as the capacity of wavelength perception that the mantis shrimps presents in their vision. In addition females are fertile when they go through certain phases of the tidal cycles, so that their specialized vision helps them to perceive both the moon phase and the size of the tide. In this way they can avoid the loss of effort in an unnecessary courtship, as well as detect the level of water that the sea has, especially those that live near the edges.

In order to attract females, males are able to cast polarized strobe lights, which are only visible among these animals and which literally dazzle females, making them feel more attracted to one male than another.They can have many episodes of breeding reaching between 20 and 30 throughout their lives. But depending on the species of mantis shrimp, they have different offspring´s care habits and couple relationship

In this aspect they do not resemble the original insect that gave them their names, the praying mantis, since the female mantis shrimp does not eat its partner after the sexual act. They can be monogamous, settling with the same partner for up to 20 years, sharing the same burrow and coordinating their activities as an old human marriage. Also depending on the species, the female can lay the eggs in a burrow and take care of them or bring them under her tail until they hatch. Also in some cases the eggs will be cared for by both sexes and the female will put two nests, one being cared for by the male and the other by her.

However, in other species of mantis shrimps, the responsibility for the care of the eggs will be solely of the female while the male is in charge of hunting for both. When the eggs hatch the young survive for up to three months feeding on plankton.

Gestation Process.

The females reach sexual maturity when they reach an approximate size of 8 to 10 centimeters. Both male and female have double sexual organs that are located in the crotch part. The male makes a simple courtship to attract the female to him. After copulation the female is able to store the sperm for lapses of up to 10 weeks, while ejecting the eggs that will be fertilized, which can reach up to 50000, with a pink color and a globular shape. They have a gestation time that lasts between two and three months, being at the beginning planctonic larvae that fall to the bottom of the sea to be able to begin their metamorphosis until they become adults.

Mantis Shrimps in Gastronomy

Although is rare in the Western Countries to not say null, the Mantis Shrimps as a saucer, in Oriental cuisine is a very succulent meat which is consumed  regularly. In Japan the Mantis Shrimp is served raw in a dish called sashimi; and as a complement to a sushi called shako.

 In Cantonese food, it is a dish popularly known as a peeing shrimp, they have the tendency to shoot jets of water when they are caught, but being very sought among diners. Once cooked the meat of the mantis shrimp, is closer in flavor to those of any lobster than to the taste of a shrimp.

Their shell is quite hard, so it requires a little pressure to make it crack. On the other hand at the Mediterranean is a common meal, concentrating its popularity on the shores of the Adriatic Sea and Andalusia.

Types of Mantis Shrimps

As has been said above there are approximately 400 different types of Mantis shrimps and we will mention the most important following

Squilla Mantis.

Also called Galera, it is fished in large quantities, but due to its little meat content it´s not appreciated in terms of gastronomy. It has a rusty yellow coloration that ranges from light brown to salmon colors. The galera has bluish and red edges but raw color on the ventral area. On the other hand his eyes are green with some purple spots and white edged. They are located in long peduncles being very complex.

Their first legs end in a curved nail that serves both to dig and to attack their prey. It can measure up to 20 centimeters in length. It is distributed in the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic, making its habitat stony or muddy bottoms. Their diet basically consists of fish and other crustaceans, using their long arms to harpoon and beat their victims.

Odontodactylus Latirostris.

This species is distributed in the Indonesian seas and the Andaman Sea in Thailand, hiding in hidden holes and burrows whose depth varies between 15 and 50 meters. They can reach a length of between 20 to 80 centimeters, which makes it a fairly large species. Their coloration is mottled brown with red and white predatory appendages.

Females have scales in their antennae of bluish-purple hues while those of males are red in color. In addition to this they have many incredible colors along their shell and legs, which gives them an erroneously friendly look; however they are a tenacious and dangerous boxer.


This species is also called the Zebra mantis shrimp or the striped mantis shrimp. It is located throughout the Indo-Pacific from the East African and the island of Hawaii. It can reach a length of up to 40 centimeters. It has a large number of teeth located in the last segment of its raptorial claw plus it has a different coloration, since the distal half is dark.

The  Zebra mantis shrimp tends to be like most of the mantis shrimps species an opportunistic predator, attacking small fish that pass through the entrance of their burrow. When paired in breeding pairs they tend to be monogamous and share the same burrow, the male being responsible to carry out most of the hunt to provide food for him and his partner.

Mantis Shrimps in Aquariums.

Although it is not a common animal to have in  aquariums, many people manage to keep them in saltwater with a lot of care. The first thing to consider is their aggressive and devouring attitude against any fish that is in the tank, so you must keep them alone, or entering fish destined for feeding exclusively.

For establishing them comfortably, the main thing you need is a well formed burrow with trunks that have a «U» shape. On the other hand there are those who consider them a plague and use them only for labor purposes, since this animal is capable of crushing and digging burrows in the exoskeletons of dead corals, resulting ideal in the creation of living sand with which aquariums are equipped.

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