Tyson, a vicious beast, punched through the quarter-inch-thick glass wall of his tank in April 1998. He didn’t go very far, though, as he was quickly apprehended by concerned staff and sent to a more guarded location. Even so, since Tyson was just four inches taller than his heavyweight namesake, it was a significant achievement.
The animal’s brave escape attempt is all the more impressive because it was completed without claws. Instead, it employed its formidable pair of “raptorial appendages,” which finish in a lethal hammer or a succession of nasty, pointed spines, according to experts. Mantis shrimps get their name from the fact that their prey-catching limbs resemble the front legs of a praying mantis.
Sheila Patek, a UC Berkeley researcher, ran into a problem when she tried to film these big hitters. “None of our high-speed video systems could correctly record the movement,” she explained. “Fortunately, as part of their series ‘Animal Camera,’ a BBC team volunteered to borrow us a super high speed camera.”
The scientist used top-of-the-line technology to record film of one of these creatures striking, which was slowed down over 800 times. Patek was really enthralled by what she saw. She discovered that the club’s edge travels at around 50 mph with each blow, more than twice as quickly as previously anticipated.
“One of the quickest limb motions in the animal realm is the strike,” Patek added. “Considering the significant drag produced by water, it’s very astounding.”
Because water is significantly denser than air, even the fastest martial artist would have a hard time landing a powerful blow in it. The mantis shrimp, on the other hand, can complete a strike in under three thousandths of a second, out-punching even its land-dwelling namesake.
How does he manage to accomplish it? Its upper forearm has a simple locking ratchet system that allows it to store energy and then blast it forward with an amazing acceleration that exceeds that of a.22 caliber bullet, providing over 1,500 Newtons of force.
And, as if that weren’t enough, the shrimp’s forearm club moves so swiftly that it reduces the pressure in the water in front of it, causing it to boil! Then, when the water pressure returns to normal, bubbles are expelled, releasing a large amount of energy in the process — a phenomenon known as cavitation.
It’s no wonder, therefore, that being struck by one of these ferocious tiny critters is painful. Quite a bit. Take a look at this: Ouch.
According to some biologists, the aggressive behavior of the mantis shrimp originated as a result of violent competition over the rock crevices it occupies. Because of the intense competition in these areas, these critters have become smarter than the normal shrimp. They are the only invertebrates that can recognize other members of their species and remember the outcome of a fight with a competitor for up to a month.
And there’s still more. Mantis shrimps have a vision that is unlike anything else in the animal kingdom. Their compound eyes, which resemble bee or fly eyes, are made up of 10,000 tiny photoreceptive units, some of which are organized in a strip-like pattern across their eyes. As a consequence, they scan this strip over their topic to perceive the world, much to how a bar-code scanner at a store works.
This implies that, rather of depending on complex brain processing to evaluate colors and identify what they are (like most vertebrates do), mantis shrimps interpret information immediately using their photoreceptors.
Understanding how mantis shrimp and other animals see the world has led to the creation of a wide range of useful applications in human technology and medicine. Satellites, for example, scan the planet as they zoom over it using numerous spectral channels arrayed in a strip before transmitting the data down to Earth – a system similar to how mantis shrimp eyes operate.
These are very incredible creatures. It’s impossible to say how many more incredible adaptations they have in store that have yet to be uncovered.