Renowned for their ability to potentially crack the glass of an aquarium and even seriously injure a careless fisherman's hand, mantis shrimp have developed a bit of a reputation. These crustaceans are surprisingly intelligent, with complex social interactions and voracious predatory behavior. However, the exact mantis shrimp diet differs based on the species at hand.
What Is a Mantis Shrimp?
A mantis shrimp is any member of the taxonomic order Stomatopoda. Researchers recognize over 450 different species within the group. They are crustaceans and are thus related to lobsters, other shrimp and crabs. Most mantis shrimp species grow about four inches long, though some can reach lengths of ten inches or more.
Mantis shrimp fall into two primary groups based on their hunting style and anatomy.
Mantis Shrimp Raptorial Appendages
The various mantis shrimp species have one of two types of raptorial appendages, which are the front pair of claws that they use for hunting prey. The first type bears the highly scientific name spearers. Spearers have several sharp barbs on their claws that they use to stab their prey.
The second type has an equally scientific name, the smashers. Smashers have a hardened club-like section on their front claws that they use to batter their prey with. This group packs an incredible punch. Their strike would apply the same force as a small gun if applied at human scale.
Mantis Shrimp Diet: Spearers
Spearers and smashers generally specialize in different types of prey. Because spearers use sharpened appendages, they typically prefer softer prey. Some prey examples include squid, worms, octopus and fish. This group prefers to use ambush as their hunting strategy. They hide within a burrow and swiftly strike out when prey wanders too close.
An example of a spearer hunting style mantis shrimp species is Squilla empusa. This species lives in the soft, muddy bottom of the Chesapeake Bay. It primarily hunts for fish, other mantis shrimp, krill, snails, worms and shrimp. Like most spearers, after its initial attack, it pulls its catch back inside its burrow to eat it.
Mantis Shrimp Diet: Smashers
Unlike spearers, smashers use blunt force to disable their prey. This means that they can hunt hard-bodied prey because they can break open their protective shells. Some prey examples include crabs, clams, mussels and snails. Rather than hiding and ambushing prey, this group actively searches and pursues their meal outside of their home burrow.
An example of a smasher hunting style mantis shrimp species is the shortnose mantis (Odontodactylus brevirostris). This species has a wide range, from the Indo-Pacific to the western Atlantic Ocean. They use their powerful claws to crush lobsters, crabs, snails, clams and other prey. Like most smasher mantis shrimp species, they also use their claws to defend themselves and their burrows from predators or rival mantis shrimp.
Mantis Shrimp: Other Fun Facts
- The peacock mantis shrimp has been recorded striking at speeds up to 23 meters per second, the equivalent of a .22 caliber gun!
- Individual shrimp can recognize one another using chemical cues, and they can even use their claws to push their "scent" towards other shrimp.
- Mantis shrimp are one of the few creatures that can hunt the deadly blue-ringed octopus.
- Most mantis shrimp species have highly complex and developed eyes which can see parts of the ultraviolet spectrum and polarized light.
- For their habit of injuring unsuspecting fishermen, mantis shrimp have acquired nicknames like killer shrimp, thumb splitters, thumb busters and finger poppers.
- One group of spearer mantis shrimp has monogamous breeding habits. They share a burrow and the female protects and cares for the eggs while the male brings her food.
- Great Barrier Reef Foundation: Mantis Shrimp
- University of California Museum of Paleontology: Stomatopoda Life History
- University of California Museum of Paleontology: Stomatopod Behavior
- EarthSky: To Smash or to Spear? The Mantis Shrimp Dilemma
- Animal Diversity Web: Odontodactylus Brevirostris
- Animal Diversity Web: Squilla Empusa
About the Author
Marina Somma is a freelance writer and animal trainer. She holds a B.A. in Psychology and a B.S. in Marine and Environmental Biology & Policy from Monmouth University. Marina has worked with a number of publications involving animal science, behavior and training, including animals.net, SmallDogsAcademy and more.