The mantis shrimp – a shrimp that, in growing up to 10 inches long, isn’t so shrimpy – has a razor-sharp pair of first claws that can slice open a fish (or your finger or toe) in a blink. Divers respectfully call them “thumb splitters.”
Mantis shrimp got their name because their front claws (the dangerous ones) are held folded under their bodies in a tight Z, like the praying mantis insect. Like some sort of little ninja lobster, a mantis shrimp can use its weapon on you before you can even react. Its slashes are the fastest-known movement in the animal kingdom.
Other species of mantis shrimp have a club-like appendage used to pummel hard-shelled prey (like crabs and snails) into meat-exposed bits. Larger mantis shrimps from the Pacific can punch with nearly the force of a .22-caliber bullet and in aquariums have been known to pop a hole in their tanks’ glass.
There are about 450 species of mantis shrimp, and one – Squilla empusa – is found in shallow waters from Cape Cod to Brazil, including Long Island Sound. The crew of The Maritime Aquarium’s research vessel and local fishermen are keenly aware of what mantis shrimp can inflict. A website frequented by local striped-bass fishermen has such comments about mantis shrimp as “some mean (expletive)s … wouldn’t even put my hand near them.”
If you swim in the Sound, your toes should be safe. Mantis shrimp are nocturnal and stay in deeper water where they can excavate a burrow. The shrimp sits in the burrow, waiting for prey to swim by.
They’re preyed upon by octopus, moray eels and fish.
The safest way to see mantis shrimp is to come to The Maritime Aquarium. During the warmer months, we often have them on display in our Salt Marsh gallery and in the side aquariums at our Intertidal Touch Tank.