Smasher mantis shrimp store catapult energy in skeletal springs that they unleash during a deadly assault; therefore deVries analysed the trajectories of several L. maculata claws in action, and realised that the hefty crustaceans were not using the same mechanism. 'The spear has all the same components [as the smashers]', explains deVries, but she adds that the shape of some of the structures are subtly different and the spring did not deform to store energy prior to an attack possibly because it is too stiff preventing L. maculata from firing a ballistic attack. 'If the L. maculata movement is similar to other ambush predators that have muscle-driven strikes, it is possible that these guys are creating strikes with muscle movement', says deVries.
Next, deVries and Patek tested the reactions of another, smaller mantis shrimp, Alachosquilla vicina, to find out whether all spearing mantis shrimps have opted for muscle-powered strikes. Elizabeth Murphy filmed the animals snapping up brine shrimp however, it was obvious that the diminutive crustaceans were using a spring-loaded catapult to spear their nimble prey. The team could clearly see energy-storing deformations in the spring structure before the mantis shrimp unfurled their deadly assaults at 6m/s.
But the team were still puzzled by L. maculata's sluggish performance. Maybe the lab-based animals had become too unfit to produce explosive attacks? Traveling to Australia to film L. maculata hunting in the wild, the team were relieved to see that the animals' reactions were well within the range of speeds that they had measured in the lab. Adult L. maculata use muscle-powered attacks all the time.
Having confirmed that it is possible for the large shrimp to produce lightening-fast strikes without using a spring mechanism, deVries says 'We're trying to get more L. maculata in the lab to look at the complete size r
|Contact: Kathryn Knight|
The Company of Biologists