When you imagine shrimp, the first word that comes to mind likely isn’t “gorgeous.” When it comes to mantis shrimp, however, their beauty is hard to deny. Stretching twice the length of their tasty relatives, mantis shrimp are about 6 inches long. And rather than the tans and oranges of a typical crustacean, mantises are vibrant in color, their body armor bedecked in a rainbow of greens, blues, reds, and oranges.
But as the Aconitum flower (aka the Queen of Poisons), the Burnet moth, and the poison dart frog have taught us, beauty doesn’t always equal harmlessness.
On the contrary, to call a mantis shrimp aggressive would actually be an understatement. Known as “The Thumb Splitter,” the multi-colored shrimp are capable of delivering a punch equivalent to the force of a 22-caliber bullet.
A single blow from the tiny sea creature generates 15,000 newtons of force, more than 2,500 times the shrimp’s weight – something a kayak fisherman learned firsthand after hoisting a mantis shrimp onto his boat.
The shrimp clearly didn’t appreciate being unceremoniously dragged from his home at the bottom of the sea into the open air, because as soon as it was off the line, it latched onto the fisherman’s neoprene booty, punching a hole straight through. The punch was so strong that the booty did almost nothing to protect the man’s foot, which received a nasty puncture wound from the shrimp’s hammer club.
Mantis Shrimp: The Deadliest Predator in the Sea
Masters of the sea in miniature, mantis shrimp deliver the strongest punch in the natural world pound for pound. They also possess the fastest strike and most sophisticated vision of any predator on Earth.
The mantis shrimp’s hammer clubs strike an astounding fifty times faster than the blink of an eye. So fast, in fact, that with each blow, the surrounding water reaches the temperature of the surface of the sun for a split second. In short, we’re lucky they’re six inches tall and not six feet.
Suffice it to say that, despite being far larger than a mantis shrimp, a human does not want to be on the receiving end of one of its devastating punches. It can punch the arm of a crab clean off its body or shatter the glass of an aquarium without even a scratch on its shell.
Those who have suffered a mantis shrimp punch have come away with some brutal scars. They’re not called “thumb splitters” for no reason. At least one man even had to have his finger amputated following a particularly fierce mantis shrimp strike.
Though we should all think twice before approaching a mantis shrimp (or allowing it inside our kayak), scientists are using the tiny destroyers to conduct some fascinating research. The mantis’ indestructible shell has provided the inspiration for helmets, planes, cars, sports equipment, and armor.