More Punches Beats Harder Punches in Mantis Shrimp Fights

When these odd creatures come to blows, someone is leaving with a bruised ego.


Mantis shrimp are the beautiful and brutal boxers of the sea.

charlene mcbride on Flickr

Some species carry two club-like appendages that hang from their face. They use them to bash apart the shells of tough buggers like clams and crabs to get at the tasty treats inside.

Like this:

Their punch is among the fastest in the animal kingdom, reaching speeds of 50 miles an hour through water. That’s fast enough to create a pressure wave that boils the water in front of it in a flash of light.

Crack, bang!


Mantis shrimp also fight each other in territorial disputes. They normally strike their opponent’s well-armoured tail section, so it’s not a death match, but it still gets pretty vicious until someone backs down.

Oh hai.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

And so, because science, a team at Duke University set up a little fight club to study the art of shrimp mantis battle. The results were published this week in Biology Letters.

The little suckers are full of surprises. Everything the researchers guessed would be true about their fighting behavior was wrong.

They thought that the mantis shrimp would be able to resolve most conflicts without resorting to actual fighting. The animals will posture in a show of aggression to show how big and tough they are, and the scientists thought one or the other would usually back off at this point.

Wanna go?

Klaus Stiefel on Flickr

But in 33 of 34 match ups, the crustaceans came to blows. They obviously are not so into backing down from a fight.

The researchers also thought the guys with the bigger fight postures would throw bigger punches, and that wasn’t true.

They thought the biggest punches would win the contest, and were wrong about that, too. It turned out that the mantis shrimp who landed the most blows usually took home the prize.

I guess when you’re both wearing heavy armor, it’s hard to get a KO. You’re best bet is to strike fast and strike often.

Related Tags