Can shrimps punch through glass?

05 December 2017

Question

Can a shrimp punch through glass?

Answer

Chris Smith put this punchy question from Sam, on Facebook, to Cambridge University marine biologist, Kate Feller...

Kate - I’ve heard this one a lot, and I have it on good authority from people who say they’ve experienced that this is possible. I personally have not experienced this in the decade I’ve been working with mantis shrimp. However, one time a colleague mailed us some rather large mantis shrimps, so we’re talking 10 to 20 cms in length, so big guys. They shipped them in some food tupperware containers inside two…

Chris - Were they for dinner then?

Kate - No, no, they were for science. It’s just easy to get them in and keep the water in. So they put them in these tupperware containers and then they put those in double bagged to make sure the water stayed inside and they’d make it safely to Baltimore from California. When they arrived all of the tupperware containers were just shattered because mantis shrimp were really angry to be shipped across the United States.

Chris - They didn’t like the east coast. They thought California was better.

Kate - Definitely west coast.

Chris - How did they do the damage?

Kate - Every mantis shrimp is able to fire this appendage that’s spring loaded; it’s called their raptorial appendage. They can either punch stuff with it or they can stab.

Chris - That’s one of their pincers is it?

Kate - No, it’s actually a modified part of their mouth. It’s a specialised pair of mouthparts and so these guys, I’m pretty sure, were punching holes by spearing, by opening it up and just stabbing the plastic. But there are species that are more specialised for the punching and all these bowling ball elbows that they’ll just smash things with. If you have a big enough one of those and you put it in an aquarium that maybe is not the thickest glass and they’re angry, they could probably put a crack in it.

Chris - So, note to marine biologists out there: when shipping your mantis shrimps, don’t use tupperware! Maybe use some other instrument instead...

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