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Strike mechanics of an ambush predator: the spearing mantis shrimp
M. S. deVries, E. A. K. Murphy, S. N. Patek


Ambush predation is characterized by an animal scanning the environment from a concealed position and then rapidly executing a surprise attack. Mantis shrimp (Stomatopoda) consist of both ambush predators (‘spearers’) and foragers (‘smashers’). Spearers hide in sandy burrows and capture evasive prey, whereas smashers search for prey away from their burrows and typically hammer hard-shelled, sedentary prey. Here, we examined the kinematics, morphology and field behavior of spearing mantis shrimp and compared them with previously studied smashers. Using two species with dramatically different adult sizes, we found that strikes produced by the diminutive species, Alachosquilla vicina, were faster (mean peak speed 5.72±0.91 m s–1; mean duration 3.26±0.41 ms) than the strikes produced by the large species, Lysiosquillina maculata (mean peak speed 2.30±0.85 m s–1; mean duration 24.98±9.68 ms). Micro-computed tomography and dissections showed that both species have the spring and latch structures that are used in other species for producing a spring-loaded strike; however, kinematic analyses indicated that only A. vicina consistently engages the elastic mechanism. In the field, L. maculata ambushed evasive prey primarily at night while hidden in burrows, striking with both long and short durations compared with laboratory videos. We expected ambush predators to strike with very high speeds, yet instead we found that these spearing mantis shrimp struck more slowly and with longer durations than smashers. Nonetheless, the strikes of spearers occurred at similar speeds and durations to those of other aquatic predators of evasive prey. Although counterintuitive, these findings suggest that ambush predators do not actually need to produce extremely high speeds, and that the very fastest predators are using speed to achieve other mechanical feats, such as producing large impact forces.


  • Supplementary material available online at http://jeb.biologists.org/cgi/content/full/215/24/4374/DC1


    This research was funded by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies (SNP), a National Science Foundation Integrative Organismal Systems grant (no. 1014573 to S.N.P.) and the Department of Integrative Biology Gray Endowment Research Fellowship and Summer Research Fellowship (M.S.dV.).

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