Lightning-fast mantis-shrimp thrusts captured by high-speed cameras

With their impressive eyes, enormous strength, and punches with the force of a .22 caliber bullet, mantis shrimp are some of the ocean's most impressive little wonders. These sucker punches are used on animals such as worms, squids and fish what they hunt, predators and each other.

New research has found that their shells provide quite a shield against rival mantis shrimp, absorbing an additional 20 percent of the shock. The findings are described in a study published May 9 in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Caught mid-action, mantis shrimp are so fast that they briefly evaporate a patch of water in front of them. For a rival on the receiving end, an armored tail provides an effective shield. CREDIT: Patrick Groen.

“In mantis shrimp, competitors exchange bullet-like hits on each other's armored tail plates, or telsons, during fights for hiding places,” study co-author and ecologist Patrick Green of the University of California, Santa Barbara. said in a statement.

Earlier research discovered that mantis shrimp have exoskeletons that can withstand attacks. They absorb part of the impact, like shock absorbers or a punching bag. However, these studies looked at their armor in a laboratory setting. In more natural rights, territorial mantis shrimp roll their tails up in front of their bodies and use them as a shield.

[Related: Baby mantis shrimp punch their prey with superior strength.]

In the studyGreen was curious how using the tail changed the way they received impact. Green introduced pairs of these crustaceans and recorded their fights. “They started hitting each other almost immediately,” he said.

Vegetable captured images of these battles at 30,000 to 40,000 frames per second–about 1000 times faster than a regular camera. By analyzing how their appendages moved before and after they made contact, he was able to calculate how much energy each punch delivers. This and the movement of their tails before and after impact indicated how much energy the tails lost with each hit.

Wildlife photo

By using their sturdy tail plates coiled, the mantis shrimp appear to be able to dissipate more energy than their shell alone can absorb.

“It made sense to me that by keeping your armor off the ground you would be able to dissipate more energy,” Green said. “Think of a boxer moving with a punch he receives.”

[Related: These crustaceans take cheap shots at rivals by growing enormous claws.]

However, taking into account the movement of their appendages relative to both the appendages and tails together, the results were different. Green plans to continue studying the armor of mantis shrimp and fighting to see what role their different shapes and sizes play. Different species of mantis shrimp also vary in how much they fight and there could be a link between behavior and morphology.

“When we try to understand how animals cope with shock, we need to think about both the structures they use (such as armor) and how they use those structures,” Green said. “This study helps us connect behavior and morphology so we can better understand how animals navigate their fights.”

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