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The incredible sex life of mantis shrimp (and other cool stuff they do)

mantis shrimp diving
Fluorescent sex, psychedelic vision and sparks underwater, what's not to love? Photo Kristina Vakova @kristina_photo_world

Mantis shrimp are, arguably, up there with cephalopods as the coolest - and perhaps most alien - creatures on this planet. Here is an overview of their spectacular sex life and other insanely amazing stuff they can do. No wonder scientists keep copying them for new technology...

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When the mantis shrimp are in a mating period, they have active fluorescence in their shell, and the wavelength produced is the same as the capacity of wavelength perception that the mantis shrimp present in their vision.

To attract females, males can cast polarized strobe lights, which are only visible among these animals and which literally dazzle females, making them feel more attracted to one male than another. When Mantis shrimp get frisky and have sex they really do see fireworks!

They can be monogamous, settling with the same partner for up to 20 years, sharing the same burrow and coordinating their activities like in a human marriage. Also depending on the species, the female can lay the eggs in a burrow and take care of them or bring them under her tail until they hatch. In some cases, the eggs will be cared for by both sexes and the female will build two nests, one being cared for by the male and the other by her.

However, in other species of mantis shrimp, the responsibility for the care of the eggs will solely be by the female while the male will be in charge of hunting for both. When the eggs hatch the young survive for up to three months feeding on plankton then start morphing into their adult form.

The females reach sexual maturity at an approximate size of 8 to 10 centimetres. Both males and females have double sexual organs that are located in the crotch part (always handy to have a spare). The male makes a 'simple' fluorescent courtship to attract the female to him. After copulation, the female can store the sperm for lapses of up to 10 weeks, while ejecting the eggs that will be fertilized, which can reach up to 50000, with a pink colour and a globular shape. They have a gestation time that lasts between two and three months.

The distal end of each penis has two openings: 1) one from the vas deferens that transfers sperm and 2) one from the accessory gland duct that contains sperm plug material for the female seminal receptacle- to make sure nothing leaks out again. Male penises are not symmetrical; the left penis is significantly longer when compared to the right penis. We could not find any information as to why this is so I will let you use your imagination.

Mantis shrimp Nusa Penida
Mantis shrimp fascinate inventors for their eyes, speed and armored shell - Photo Helene Reynaud

They have eyes that can pick up fluorescence and view the world in 11 or 12 primary colours, unlike humans who only see 3. Though they are not good at differentiating colors they can perceive polarized light and hyperspectral color vision. Mantis shrimps can perceive wavelengths from deep ultraviolet through the visible spectrum and into infrared. They can also see polarized light.

Some species can perceive circularly polarized light—an ability not found in any other animal species. Their exceptional vision gives the mantis shrimp a survival advantage in an environment that can range from bright to murky. It allows them to see and gauge distance to shimmering or translucent objects.

The eyes of mantis shrimp can detect both cancer and neuron activity, scientists are studying them to create cameras that can detect cancerous growths.

This incredible animal kills by rapidly unfolding its raptorial claws with an astounding acceleration of 102,000 m/s2 and speed of 51 mph (faster than a bullet). If humans had equivalent strength we could throw a tennis ball into orbit.

The strike is so quick it boils water between the shrimp and its prey, producing cavitation bubbles. When the bubbles collapse, the resulting shockwave hits prey with an instantaneous force of 1500 newtons. So, even if the shrimp misses its target, the shockwave can stun or kill it. The collapsing bubble also produces weak light, known as sonoluminescence. Typical prey includes fish, snails, crabs, oysters, and other molluscs. Mantis shrimps will also eat members of their own species (!).

Beneath their hard-coated clubs, mantis shrimp have special layers of elastic polysaccharide chitin, which are positioned in a way to act as shock absorbers. This structure is called a Bouligand Structure, and it keeps small cracks from becoming a full break. Researchers have studied their cell structure for advanced body armour for combat troops, car frames and aircraft panels.

So if you had any doubts as to how cool these little critters are, I'm sure your mind is made up now! :)

All photo credits Kristina Vakova @kristina_photo_world

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