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Beware the Shrimp

Buckle up because you’re about to meet the coolest crustacean to roam the seven seas. Lobsters, crabs and krill have nothing on…. (cue dramatic music) the Pistol Shrimp. Sometimes called the snapping shrimp, this cute little Alpheidae slings red hot bubbles of death. 

Here’s how the pistol shrimp does business: It has a really big claw that's perfectly designed to do the impossible: a one-handed clap. When an unsuspecting crustacean passes by, the pistol shrimp cocks its large claw and snaps it shut. The speed of this tiny clap is so fast (105 feet per second) that it displaces the water and lowers the pressure. This causes small air bubbles to rapidly expand. But as the water pressure rushes back in, these bubbles collapse, generating an enormous amount of heat. And when we say enormous we mean enormous - temperatures can reach 8,000 degrees (nearly as hot as the sun!) This entire process creates a shock wave that stuns the shrimp’s prey - sometimes killing it on contact.

Obviously, this all takes place on a tiny scale (it’s just a shrimp). But if you’re the prey, it doesn’t feel so small. The shock waves can reach 210 decibels, which is about 60 decibels louder than a gunshot. It’s arguably better to die from the shock wave than be knocked unconscious and gobbled up while you’re still alive. In recent years, energy scientists have been trying to replicate the shrimp's snapping technology and scale it up for our own use. Check out this video from the BBC to see the shrimp in action. 

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention our other favorite crustacean, the Mantis Shrimp (which is technically a stomatopod, not a shrimp). This little critter has a similar weapon to the Pistol Shrimp. But instead of a claw, it uses two boxing arms (dactyl clubs). The speed of its punch creates bubbles that collapse, generating enormous temperatures. However, instead of relying on the shock wave to stun its prey, the Mantis Shrimp actually punches the poor chap.

But how much harm can a shrimp’s fist do? Well, their punches can reach 50 mph and land with 160 pounds of force. Divers are even told to avoid the shrimp if possible - a punch in the face can cause serious damage to their masks. The thought of being punched in the face by a shrimp is both terrifying and hysterical. Well, mostly hysterical. 

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Photo by Anker A, Grave


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