When mantis shrimp (Stomatopoda) dispute territory or mating rights, they use the tools at hand – namely two super-sonic bludgeons powerful enough to dismember a live crab or break through a clam shell.

Mantis shrimp are pugnacious pugilistic crustaceans . (Photo by Nazir Amin via Wikimedia Commons.)

Mantis shrimp are pugnacious and pugilistic. (Photo by Nazir Amin via Wikimedia Commons.)

Fortunately, they’ve developed a way to use these deadly clubs on each other without causing too many fatalities. In a ritualized battle called “telson sparring,” the combatants take turns hammering on each other’s tail-plate, which is raised up like a shield.

Graduate student Patrick Green watched more than 30 such contests in captive Panamanian mantis shrimp to discover that it wasn’t the shrimp who hit hardest who won the bout, but the one who hit the most frequently.

Green and his Ph.D. supervisor, biology professor Sheila Patek, hypothesize that the ritualized fighting could be a display of overall vigor and tenacity rather than outright punching power.

CITATION: “Contests with deadly weapons: telson sparring in mantis shrimp (Stomatopoda),” Green PA, Patek SN. Biology Letters, Sept. 2015. DOI:10.1098/rsbl.2015.0558

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psnvOqtRmzI]

Karl Leif Bates

Post by Karl Leif Bates, Director of Research Communications