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Why a Mantis Shrimp’s Wicked Clubs Are Like Pringles

The mantis shrimp is a many-legged peacock with a high-powered rifle for an arm. It has the most incredible eyes in the animal kingdom, able to see polarized light with structures like those found in DVD players, only better. The peacock mantis shrimp can fire off a punch so fast that it dramatically changes the water pressure on impact, creating shockwaves, heat and light on the shell of some poor crustacean.

The Oatmeal aptly calls it “Genghis Khan bathed in sherbert ice cream.”

The secret to the shrimp’s (actually a relative of crabs and shrimps called a stomatopod) boxing prowess is obviously the speed and strength of its clubbed arms. But how does it manage such a knock-out punch? Destin over at Smarter Every Day has a new video explaining how the shrimp achieves punches that are too fast to be powered by muscle alone. It’s all thanks to a Pringle-like structure (which allows it to punch through a crab):

As Destin explains, the peacock mantis shrimp has evolved a very clever way to store up potential energy and release it all at once. The Pringle-shaped saddle structure on the shrimp’s arm is hard to compress, so the shrimp builds up a lot of energy doing so and then locks it in place with another anatomical feature. It’s like drawing on a compound bow or readying a crossbow bolt. Once the shrimp releases the catch, all that energy flings an arm forward faster than the muscles could move it alone, and the result is a broken test tube or (again) a punched-through crab.

Once the punch is on its way, an incredibly well-engineered club structure makes sure that all the energy is spread out so that nothing but a prey’s shell (or a test tube or aquarium glass) shatters. What an awesome view of the Mike-Tyson-wearing-a-techincolor-dreamcoat of the sea.

As a bonus, check out this video Dr. Jamie Seymour of James Cook University also shot, but this time of a mantis shrimp that uses spears instead of clubs:

IMAGE: Mantis Shrimp by Klaus Stiefel

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