Mantis Shrimp Larva

Photograph by Peter Parks

© 2001 by Image Quest 3-D
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Good name. Indeed, these various larval stages of a variety of Mantis Shrimps and Mantis Lobsters from tropical and subtropical seas, are stroppy. Stroppy by appearance and stroppy by nature, soon into their larval development they become endowed with their most distinct feature, namely a pair of viciously effective raptorial limbs, similar but different to those of the flying mantid insects of tropical rainforests.

"Raptorial" is a term used to describe limbs that engage their prey by gripping between forearm and upper arm or between wrist and forearm. The marine versions of stomatopods - the Mantis Shrimps - modify the inner side of the terminal part of their second pair of subchelate mouthparts to become a series of very sharp, slightly recurved teeth, the final one of which is nothing short of sabre-like. These teeth, at rest, come to lie in a groove of the next most proximal section of the limb which acts as both a sheath and an "anvil" or "chopping-block" against which the teeth smash the victim in a power strike that is measured in hundredths of a second.

Mantis Shrimps, from their burrows in the sandy lagoon floor, or amongst coral rubble, can strike, hold and capture fast, over swimming fish. The larger stomatopods may be fourteen inches in length, banded in brilliant yellow and black bars and capable of inflicting extremely painful and serious injury to a human hand. Some related "Knocker Shrimps" that strike outwards rather than inwards can smash their way out of strong glazed aquarium tanks!

The larval stages pass from "erichthus" to "antizoea" to lysierichthus" and finally to "alima" forms. The earlier stages are not dissimilar to other crustacean larvae such as decapod crabs. The later stages are beautiful, glassy transparent, 5 cm long planktonic versions of the adults. In the plankton community they must be the "lions of the Serengeti".

Another claim to fame for the stomatopods is their eyesight and eye development. Adults and larvae have stalked eyes. In the adults, the dumbbell-shaped compound eyes on each stalk imply a degree of 3-D vision from each eye. Justin Marshall at the University of Queensland has carefully researched Mantis eyes and has shown that they contain an unparalleled diversity of visual pigments and spectral receptors. The waisted area of the dumbbell is shown to be very receptive to polarised light and the receptivity of individual species varies in accordance with the depth at which they live and the wavelengths there encountered.

All in all - some of a cool dude!

This article was written by Peter Parks

© 2001 by Image Quest 3-D
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