This peacock mantis shrimp shows off its durable weapons, the two oval-shaped hammers at the end of its arms. Photo by Silke Baron.
Mantis shrimp, or stomatopods, are the planet’s most powerful bare-knuckle boxers, armed with dactyl clubs that literally fly faster than a speeding .22 caliber bullet. Each strike boils the surrounding water and creates a tiny cavitation bubble, which then implodes with a sonic pop that can render targets unconscious. Consider that: if the strike itself doesn’t get you, its aftershock will. And that’s just the variety of stomatopod equipped with blunt fists – others launch their lance-like arms to pierce prey.
These little lobster cousins, usually between 4 and 12 inches long, are capable of beating their way through the hard shells of armored animals, such as crabs and clams. That so small an animal can crack shells, split fishermen’s thumbs, and fracture aquarium glass is an extraordinary mechanical feat in its own right.
But there’s another seldom-explored angle to these underwater pugilists: how can a bare fist survive ballistic-level impacts? Put another way, how does the mantis shrimp fire the same armor-piercing bullet 50,000 times?