Scientists Discover How Mantis Shrimp Claws Balance Form And Function

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Lisa Winter

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1072 Scientists Discover How Mantis Shrimp Claws Balance Form And Function
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Of all of the sea creatures you never want to go toe-to-toe with, the mantis shrimp should definitely be one of them. Sure, some species may be brightly rainbow-colored and therefore seem non-threatening, but remember that in nature, it’s usually the brightly-colored ones you need to fear the most. These creatures pack an incredible punch due to spring-loaded claws. A new paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B describes how mantis shrimp were able to evolve an astonishing variety of claw shapes—while still retaining the ability to strike fast and hard.

When mantis shrimp strike, they blast their claw forward in a fraction of a second with 1,500 Newtons of force. This rapid movement also produces a cavitation bubble in the water. When this bubble collapses, the shock wave that occurs is forceful enough to kill the target if the punch alone wasn’t enough to do it. In fact, these animals make terrible additions to aquariums because they kill too many other fish and sometimes break through the glass itself.


"This research sheds new light on how these amazing movements evolved," lead author Philip Anderson from Duke University said in a press release.

Diversity of mantis shrimp claws. Image credit: Thomas Claverie, Universite de Montpellier

Anderson and co-author Sheila Patek, also from Duke, studied the claws of 200 specimens across 36 species that represented 80 million years of evolution. While the shape of the claw differed between species—which allow the mantis shrimp to inflict damage differently—the species share the ability to blow forward with incredible force.

The pair also found that the force isn’t generated by the animal’s muscle alone. Despite the diversity in claw shape, all of the species had similar biological levers, springs, and latches, which amplify the effect of the strike. The researchers concluded that as long as the different shrimp species stayed within the parameters of those necessary mechanical features, the other aspects of the claw were free to evolve without loss of function for the shrimp.

Mantis shrimp using its claws to take down its prey. Image credit: Roy Caldwell

In addition to their amazing fighting prowess, mantis shrimp also have amazing vision. They are able to see beyond the spectrum of humans, ranging from near-infrared to ultraviolet. They also have twelve different channels in their eyes with which to determine color, whereas humans only have three. However, their need to quickly recognize prey or predators doesn’t afford them the opportunity to perceive different shades of colors better than we do. 


Love mantis shrimp? Don’t forget to check out The Oatmeal’s “Why the mantis shrimp is my new favorite animal,” which is always a fantastic read.


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