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Creature Feature: Creepiest Critter of the Collection

October 28, 2016

By Alex McCloskey, a Teen Newsroom producer, and currently a junior at Millbrook High School. Photographer Caroline Wang is a Teen Newsroom producer, and currently a junior at Enloe High School.

Rows of Jars at the Research Lab

Photo by Caroline Wang.

Walking into the Museum’s Research Lab adjacent to Prairie Ridge Ecostation gives off an immediate feeling of secrecy and concealment. A labyrinth of jars containing the bodies of once living creatures line rows and rows of shelves deep inside the facility. The dead range from scorpions to all different kinds of crabs and shrimp. Every jar sent a shiver down my spine. One of the shrimps that stands out among the rest as the most eerie is known as the mantis shrimp, known for its bright colors, insane strength, and unbelievable speed. Alcohol inside the jar preserves the flesh, but drains away the animal’s coloring, leaving only a pale yellow carcass floating in ghostly liquid.

There are over 400 different species of mantis shrimp, but there are only two different groups: smashers and spearers. Smashers are smaller than spearers. Both like to reside in coral reefs. The smashers use a very hard appendage shaped like a club to unleash a powerful blow onto their prey. The spearers use spear-like appendages to stab their prey.

The shells of most species are decorated with different hues of blue, green, red, and orange. They vary in size ranging from 10 centimeters all the way up to 46 centimeters in length. They are dangerous and their tenacity can make them unstoppable creatures.

Mantis Shrimp close-up

By Nazir Amin (Mantis Shrimp). CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Mantis shrimp are extremely well trained fighters. They can punch with a velocity of over 10 meters per second and have the power of a .22 caliber bullet. Mantis shrimp prefer to stay within their burrows and do not like to venture far from them unless forced to. They will often ambush prey that comes near their burrows instead of going out and hunting to avoid leaving. Tending to be very aggressive, mantis shrimp do not play nice unless it is with a mate. Some mantis shrimp species mate for life. They will find a mate, share the same burrow, protect their eggs, and help each other with hunting for their entire lives. On average, mantis shrimp can live up to 20 years. These years are spent terrorizing other animals in the deep.

raquel-and-mantis-shrimp

Raquel Fagundo holds up a jar containing the preserved body of a mantis shrimp. Photo by Bronwyn Williams.

When asked what she considered the most interesting feature the mantis shrimp possessed was, Raquel Fagundo, Collections Manager of the Non-Molluscan Invertebrates at the Research Lab said, “Other than their awesome defense mechanism, their vision.” Mantis shrimp have trinocular vision, meaning that they can use three points of vision like a microscope does. Their vision is both spectacular and nightmare-inducing to imagine at the same time. With that kind of eyesight, the mantis shrimp can spot prey from inside its lair. Mantis Shrimp are generally found within the tropical and subtropical bodies of waters in the Indian and Pacific Oceans between eastern Africa and Hawaii. However, some species have been found to live in temperate seas. Although the mantis shrimp may normally live far away, you can see this creepy creature in the Museum’s collection at the Research Lab. The Mantis Shrimp is a truly terrifying creature that lurks in the deep.

For more information on the mantis shrimp’s vision, check out award-winning science writer Ed Yong’s article: The Mantis Shrimp Sees Like a Satellite. On November 17, 2016,  Ed Yong will be giving a special presentation on microbes in conjunction with the opening of the Museum’s newest featured exhibition The Secret World Inside You: Meet Your Microbes.

Creature Feature is your closer look at the interesting animals around us in North Carolina. See the facts on these cool critters and more at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences!

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