A hungry mantis shrimp may be the last thing that a passing fish sees before it is snatched from the water by the predator. Maya deVries from the University of California, Berkeley, says 'Spearer mantis shrimps stay in their sandy burrows and they wait for a fast-moving prey item to come by, but then they come out of nowhere and grab the prey with their long skinny appendages.' However, little was know about how these vicious predators unleash their lightning-fast attacks. According to deVries, the spearing shrimp are closely related to smasher mantis shrimps, which pulverise the shells of crustaceans and molluscs with a single explosive blow from their mighty claws. Having decided to find out how the crustaceans unleash their deadly assaults, deVries says, 'We thought that the spearers would be just as fast if not faster than the smashers because they have a smaller time window in which to capture their prey.' deVries and her colleagues publish their discovery that Lysiosquillina maculata spearer mantis shrimps power their mighty spears with muscle alone while smaller Alachosquilla vicina spearer mantis shrimps use a more conventional catapult mechanism in The Journal of Experimental Biology at http://jeb.biologists.org.
Working with her PhD advisor, Sheila Patek, deVries took a short trip along the corridor to Roy Caldwell's lab to film some of his L. maculata mantis shrimps. Coaxing the nocturnal lobster-sized crustaceans to assault frozen prawns, deVries recalls that the animals were reluctant to attack; 'They probably didn't like the bright lights', she says. However, when the duo analysed the speed of the strikes, they were surprised that the spearer's harpoon speed was much slower than that of their smashing cousin's. Explaining that smashers can unleash strikes at speeds ranging from 10 to 23m/s, the duo were taken aback that L. maculata could only must
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The Company of Biologists