All About the Mantis Shrimp: The Thumb Splitter

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 15th October 2023

NameMantis ShrimpDietCarnivorous
Scientific nameOdontodactylus scyllarus etc.Weight0.4 to 3.2 oz (12 to 90 g)
Pronunciationman-tis shrimpLength4 to 15 in (10 to 38 cm)
ClassificationStomatopoda (Order)LocationSoutheast Asian, Pacific Island, Australian, and Indian Ocean

The Mantis Shrimp

mantis shrimp
Mantis shrimp over the sandy bottom | THIERRY EIDENWEIL via Getty Images

The mantis shrimp, or stomatopod, is a fascinating marine species. It is often included among the ocean’s most fascinating inhabitants. 

Its striking looks and intriguing behavior stand out from the crowd. Mantis shrimps have bright, strong appendages to bash or puncture their prey with incredible speed and intensity. 

These marine crustaceans have powerful jaws equipped with sharp teeth that can break through hard shells, and their assaults may even create cavitation bubbles for extra power.

Mantis shrimps are feared for their formidable hunting prowess, although they are not dangerous to people since they are often found at great depths in the water. 

Gage Beasley's In-Demand Plush Toys
Gage Beasley’s In-Demand Plush Toys

Animals like this are of great scientific interest because of their versatility in living in a wide range of marine habitats, from sandy beaches to dark, deep ocean trenches. 

Discover the secrets of these aquatic beauties as we dig into their environments, reproductive methods, conservation status, and their essential role in improving marine ecology and environmental research.

Taxonomy and Classification

mantis shrimp
Peacock mantis shrimp | ifish via Getty Images

The different species of mantis shrimps may be found within the order Stomatopoda, which is further divided into several families, genera, and species. 

Their remarkable adaptations set them apart from all other aquatic life. 

The peacock mantis shrimp (Odontodactylus scyllarus) and the smashing mantis shrimp are two of the most well-known species of mantis shrimp. 

Unique characteristics, such as trinocular vision and powerful raptorial appendages, result from millions of years of evolution in this species. 

Fossils of mantis shrimps are uncommon, yet they provide important clues about the creatures’ evolutionary history. 

These animals are a fascinating study in marine biology because of the similarities in their appearance and hunting strategies that have arisen via independent lines of evolution.

Physical Characteristics

Gage Beasley's Mantis Shrimp Soft Stuffed Plush Toy
Gage Beasley’s Mantis Shrimp Soft Stuffed Plush Toy

The many species of mantis shrimp are remarkable, each with its distinct charm due to its size and coloration. 

These saltwater crustaceans may grow as long as 12 inches (and even 15 inches on exceptional occasions). 

They have elongated, generally cylindrical bodies that allow them to move quickly and precisely through the water. 

They come in a broad range of sizes and shapes, with females often heavier than males.

Mantis shrimps are easily distinguished by their specialized claws, which they can apply for various tasks, including hunting, protection, and building homes. 

The shape and function of these claws may vary significantly from one species to another. 

The two kinds are club-clawed and spike-clawed mantis shrimps. 

While the club-like claws of the smashing mantis shrimp allow it to attack with remarkable speed and power, the sharp, spiky claws of the piercing mantis shrimp are used for impaling victims.

mantis shrimp
Can you spot the claws? | LuffyKun via Getty Images

These incredible claws are equipped with various sharp structures and appendages, which vary in number and arrangement among species. 

For example, the peacock mantis shrimp has a pair of large, colorful, and fan-like appendages used in courtship displays.

Mantis shrimp use their multi-pointed raptorial appendages as a weapon and a shield. 

The dactyl is for striking and gripping prey, the propodus in the center is for balance, the carpus, merus, ischium, and basis all provide stability and house strong muscles, and the structure anchors the body. 

Mantis shrimp use this complex architecture to unleash devastating strikes.

Mantis shrimps also exhibit remarkable diversity in their coloration and body patterns. 

They use these eye-catching displays to communicate, camouflage, and ward off potential threats. 

Some mantis shrimps are adorned with vibrant hues and intricate patterns, while others rely on more subtle shades to blend into their surroundings.

Habitat and Distribution

Although mantis shrimps may be found in a wide variety of habitats across the globe, you’re most likely to encounter them in the warm seas of the tropics and subtropics. 

They are prevalent in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, home to many marine life. 

These fantastic animals are most often seen between depths of 40 and 100 meters, while certain tropical species have been discovered at even greater depths.

In the Indo-Pacific, for instance, you may see the eye-catching peacock mantis shrimp lounging in the warm waters among the many coral reefs. 

mantis shrimp
Smashing mantis shrimp | Stephan Kuhn via Getty Images

The smashing mantis shrimp, known for its tremendous blows, is frequently observed in the same waters.

Several species may be found in the waters off the coast of Australia, where the warm currents provide an ideal habitat for these brilliant crustaceans. 

At the same time, the seas of Asia are home to several fascinating species, such as the harlequin mantis shrimp. 

Mantis shrimps, in essence, have specialized in niches worldwide, and the wide variety of marine environments in which they may be found reflects this.

Behavior and Social Structure

mantis shrimp
Swimming Peacock Mantis Shrimp | ifish via Getty Images

Mantis shrimps exhibit fascinating behaviors driven by their unique adaptations and ecological niches. 

Mantis shrimps are voracious predators, with most species favoring a diet of crustaceans, mollusks, and small fish. 

Depending on their specialized claws, mantis shrimps either smash their prey, delivering rapid and forceful strikes or spear them with precision. 

They often construct burrows or dwell in crevices, using their keen eyesight to ambush unsuspecting prey. 

Most mantis shrimp species lead solitary lives, focused on their individual survival and hunting prowess.

Their territorial behavior and aggressive tendencies make them unsuitable for communal living. 

In the rare instances when they encounter conspecifics, aggressive interactions are common, and hierarchies may be established based on size and dominance. 

mantis shrimp
Mantis Shrimp marking its territory | Robert Buchel via Getty Images

They communicate through visual displays and aggressive posturing, deterring potential rivals. 

It has been shown that mantis shrimp utilize sound to communicate. They make low-pitched rumbles that last around 0.2 seconds and have a frequency of about 167 hertz. 

For example, the Hemisquilla californiensis, or California mantis shrimp, makes noise by vibrating its carapace, much like the American lobster.

Science has recorded several individuals in the same location making rumbling noises simultaneously, each with its own unique tone. 

Dawn and sunset are also peak times for acoustic activity when these creatures are either foraging for food or keeping watch over their dwellings.

Mantis shrimp are primarily nocturnal, coming out of their burrows at night to go hunting. They then spend most of the day hunkered down in their homes, secure from harm.

Diet and Feeding

mantis shrimp
Smashing Mantis Shrimp ready to hunt | LuffyKun via Getty Images

The mantis shrimp is a voracious predator of the aquatic environment, and its diet and hunting techniques reflect this. 

Although small, this marine marvel can hunt a wide range of prey because of its fantastic adaptability and targeted feeding strategies.

Since mantis shrimps are primarily carnivorous, they like a wide variety of seafood. Crabs, shrimp, and other crustaceans rank high on their list of preferred foods.

The mantis shrimp’s keen vision comes in handy when picking out meals.

Thanks to their trinocular vision and the ability to see a wide variety of colors, even ultraviolet light, they can locate potential targets based on parameters like size, movement, and minor optical clues. 

Mantis shrimps are selective predators that only attack when they have a good chance of success.

Mantis shrimp have two different hunting strategies—smashing and piercing—each with benefits and drawbacks. 

They are highly adaptable and skilled marine predators, as seen by these two distinct hunting techniques.

mantis shrimp
Squilla mantis, showing the spearing appendages | Photo via Wikipedia

Mantis shrimps’ smashing method has several benefits, including the ability to swiftly crack the exteriors of hard-shelled prey and access the delicate contents within. 

This adaptability makes smashing mantis shrimps good generalist predators, allowing them to consume various foods — even those that have developed robust defenses. 

The cons of this method include the possibility of the attack being loud, which might alert adjacent predators or prey to the mantis shrimp’s position, and the potential of injury to the mantis shrimp from the explosive attacks.

However, the piercing mantis shrimp’s way of hunting is favorable since it allows it to avoid harm by focusing on specific vulnerable points in the bodies of its victims. 

Instead of using power to break through the shells, it is more effective to paralyze prey simply with a quick stab. 

Piercing is also less audible than slamming, making it simpler to get undetected kills. 

The piercing strategy has several drawbacks, too, including a more limited diet, an inability to adapt to the defenses of well-armored victims, and the significance of faultless strikes. 

Reproduction and Life Cycle

mantis shrimp
Mantis shrimp looking while sheltering in a burrow amongts the corals | maccj via Getty Images

Mantis shrimp have a fascinating life cycle that includes intricate actions and unique adaptations to help their progeny thrive in harsh maritime environments.

They use complex courting rituals and displays as part of their reproductive activity. 

Although mantis shrimps typically live alone, males will impulsively seek out females during mating season. 

Males initiate a courtship with visual displays, attracting females with bright colors and complex postures. 

Males and females of several species perform duets to communicate and gauge one another’s desirability.

After a successful courting, the next step is mating. 

The male mantis shrimp uses specialized attachments to transport spermatophores to the female’s receptacles. 

Eggs are fertilized internally and carried by the female until they hatch.

The length of a gestation period might vary from species to species, although it’s usually a few weeks. 

At this point, the female uses sticky secretions to secure the eggs to her body, often on the lower abdomen. 

mantis shrimp
Peacock Mantis Shrimp (with eggs) | Christian Gloor via Flickr (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

She tends to the growing embryos, shielding them from dangers lurking in the water.

Mantis shrimp have evolved impressive mechanisms for increasing their reproductive success. 

Some species lay only a few dozen eggs at a time, while others may lay hundreds or even thousands in a single batch. 

Species of mantis shrimp use a wide variety of ecological tactics, and this variation in reproductive success reflects those techniques.

Mantis shrimps go through several phases throughout their life cycle. 

The baby mantis shrimp, or larvae, enter a planktonic stage after hatching and float aimlessly through the water columns. 

During this time, they change drastically, going through many molts and becoming juvenile mantis shrimps.

The juvenile mantis shrimp is smaller and has a different color pattern than adults. 

They develop into mature individuals, exhibiting the complex courting and reproductive activities already described. 

Ecological Role and Interactions

mantis shrimp
Smashing Mantis Shrimp in a coral reef | LuffyKun via Getty Images

Mantis shrimps play a vital role in the health and stability of the ecosystems in which they live. 

Their impacts are felt most strongly on coral reefs, sandy sea floors, and other coastal ecosystems.

As apex predators, mantis shrimps regulate the numbers and concentrations of other invertebrates and mollusks in the aquatic food chain. 

They contribute to a healthy marine ecosystem by regulating populations of prey species like crabs and shrimp. 

By controlling the abundance and distribution of other organisms, these species serve as vital organisms in their respective systems.

Few examples of symbiotic connections between mantis shrimps and other marine species have been reported, although these creatures are intriguing, sophisticated, and exhibit unusual behaviors.

Due to their reputation as carnivores, symbiotic partnerships between mantis shrimps and other aquatic organisms are rare. 

Their solitary nature and acute hunting abilities make them poor symbiotic partners.

There may be unreported or understated examples of mantis shrimp symbiosis since the scholarly literature on the topic is less substantial than other marine species.

Conservation Status and Threats

mantis shrimp
What threats do these mantis shrimps face? | AHDesignConcepts via Getty Images

Like countless other marine species, mantis shrimps are especially susceptible to environmental change’s impacts. 

One major threat to mantis shrimp numbers is the degradation of their habitat due to coastal urbanization and pollutants. 

Changes in the water’s temperature and acidity due to global warming may also impact mantis shrimp populations. 

All of these factors threaten mantis shrimps, which is why marine conservation activities on a massive scale are necessary to safeguard their habitats and ensure their long-term survival.

However, since mantis shrimps are not considered a threatened or endangered species, their preservation is not often prioritized in marine conservation initiatives. 

They are widespread across the ocean and have a relatively steady population. 

As a result, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and other organizations have not designated them a protected status.

Unique Adaptations and Survival Strategies

mantis shrimp
Mantis shrimp blending in | LuffyKun via Getty Images

Mantis shrimp are feared marine predators due to their remarkable adaptations and survival techniques. 

A few mantis shrimp species can camouflage. They can utilize their coloring and body patterns to avoid predation or execute their meals.

Its exceptional eyesight is one of its most remarkable traits, essential to its success as a hunter and survivor.

Mantis shrimps use trinocular vision, meaning their eyes are composed of three distinct parts that may rotate and focus individually. 

This trinocular vision gives them a significant tactical edge in tracking and catching prey because of the incredible precision with which they can judge depth and distance. 

The mantis shrimp’s eyes can also move quickly and individually, allowing it to monitor its environment for danger or prey. 

mantis shrimp
Eyes of the Peacock Mantis Shrimp | atese via Getty Images

This flexibility helps them closely monitor their surroundings and respond rapidly to disturbances or opportunities.

They also have excellent color vision, for which they are famous. 

They have expansive color vision and can even see ultraviolet light, something humans naturally can’t. 

This eye for detail helps them notice the tiniest changes in their environment and the most minute in the hues of their prey.

The capacity of mantis shrimp to perceive polarized light is another fascinating characteristic of their eyesight — this ability to detect polarized light aids in detecting camouflaged or transparent prey that could otherwise go undetected.

Cultural Significance and Human Interactions

mantis shrimp
Mantis shrimp head close-up | slowmotiongli via Getty Images

The mantis shrimp’s distinctive look has resulted in its occasional inclusion in indigenous customs and art despite the shrimp’s very little cultural importance.

Marine biologists and ecologists have also studied them to understand marine environments better. 

Divers and scientists monitor these species, although they are seldom targeted for commercial reasons. 

Habitat preservation is a primary goal of marine conservation activities, which has positive effects on marine life as a whole. 

While mantis shrimps aren’t exactly conservation’s poster child, they are helpful because they help keep marine ecosystems healthy and diverse.

Future Prospects and Research

mantis shrimp
Underwater close-up photography of a mantis shrimp with eggs. | scubaluna via Getty Images

Mantis shrimps have garnered interest from the fields of robotics and astronomy due to their remarkable abilities. 

Their trinocular vision and pinpoint striking mechanisms inspired advances in sensor and imaging technology, which have found use in underwater research and the development of useful robotic instruments. 

The swiftness of their limbs has also influenced technological advances in robotic arms.

Polarimetry, a method used in astronomy, has benefited from the discovery that mantis shrimps can sense polarized light. 

This technique may be used for the study of cosmic dust, the detection of faraway exoplanets, and the comprehension of other complex celestial events.

Inspired by the mantis shrimp’s vision, scientists at the University of Illinois have created a susceptible camera to detect color and polarization. 

The bioinspired imager, according to the study’s authors, has the potential to enhance cancer screenings and shed light on currently unexplained marine occurrences.

These fantastic creatures illustrate how even inconspicuous aquatic organisms may have far-reaching consequences in our modern world.


The mantis shrimp is one of the aquatic world’s marvels due to its unique characteristics and exceptional survival strategies. 

Its trinocular vision, specialized appendages, and foraging tactics have been used in various industries, including robotics and astronomy. 

Although not recognized as cultural icons, these creatures are essential in our modern world.

Our newfound knowledge of mantis shrimps demonstrates the value of marine ecosystems in sustaining biodiversity.

Even though they are not a conservational model, their health is vital to the condition of our oceans. 

Support marine conservation efforts, raise awareness of these unique animals, and make decisions that safeguard the marine ecosystem’s delicate balance; such actions are befitting of good, environmentally conscious people.


How many species of mantis shrimp are there?

Over 450 distinct mantis shrimp species exist, each with its unique coloration.

Is a mantis shrimp the same thing as a pistol shrimp?

Although both are classified as decapods, mantis shrimps (Stomatopoda) and pistol shrimps (Alpheidae) are not the same species.

Can mantis shrimps hurt people?

The smashing variety of the mantis shrimp can break a human finger with one blow with its blunt, calcified claw. 


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