Stomatopods on Film

Review: Fastest Claws in the West by ASJ

This short documentary features some of the best shots of stomatopods that I have seen. Unfortunately, the film itself was difficult to find, but I finally managed to locate one in a nearby central library. Suffice it to say that I wanted so badly to get back from work that day to view it.

And what a film!

The documentary opened with shots of a Peacock mantis shrimp (Odontodactylus scyllarus) breaking several glass panes. It did it in slow motion, so you could actually watch the raptorial appendages unfurl and strike the glass, which promptly disintegrated under the impact.

There were of course the usual shots of stomatopods attacking and killing crabs. One of the most awesome segments featured a large peacock breaking a hard-bodied box crab (?) in two....the crab tried hiding by burying itself in the sand, but the mantis simply hit with what must have been a very solid blow, because the crab immediately started to run away.....the mantis followed and delivered a couple more blows, breaking the carapace of the crab before dragging it into its burrow. In another segment, a mantis broke off several legs of a brightly colored porcelain crab (?), before dragging it into its lair....looked almost like a slasher movie, with the crab holding futilely to the sides of the cavity as it was slowly dragged in.

There were also 3 segments featuring stomatopod interactions with cephalopods. In the best one, a cuttlefish-like cephalopod called a Sephiolid buried itself close to the home of a grayish smasher. There it used its tentacles to ensnare passing prawns. The mantis shrimp itself also ate the passing prawns, shooting out its appendages in a blur and nimbly catching the passing crustaceans.

After awhile, the curious mantis shrimp came close to the buried cephalopod, which in turn shot a stream of sand/water at the incoming stomatopod. The mantis shrimp returned to its burrow, but continued to eye the encroaching poacher.

When the Sephiolid got too close to the burrow, the mantis suddenly struck at it, and ALMOST reeled the cuttlefish in....there was a flurry of movement, then the Sephiolid fled quickly away. The narrator (Attenborough) mentioned that the mantis was simply driving away the intruding poacher, but I looked at it in slow motion, and the mantis was definitely trying to make a meal out of that mollusk.

The second segment was sorta funny because it featured a small mantis fighting with a gigantic octopus whose tentacles had gotten close to its burrow. In fact, all we can see of the octopus are its tentacles, which waved about and flailed at the tiny mantis as the stomatopod continued to gamely strike at it. If you'd like proof about how fearless stomatopods can be, this one segment does a good job of providing it. It would sorta be like me stomping on Godzilla's foot as the monster rampaged through Tokyo.

There were two segments on stomatopod mating, the funniest one being the shot of a male Peacock as it scurried out the backdoor after mating with a female that had suddenly turned vicious.

There were also segments on Doc Caldwell catching two mantis shrimps: a Pseudosquilla ciliata using a small net, and a very large Lysiosquillina maculata using a snare trick. A large fish (lionfish) also "catches" a tiny mantis shrimp that had decided to stand its ground, but immediately spits out the feisty critter, who was none the worse for wear.

The show also featured segments on stomatopod individual recognition, where the Doc shows that stomatopods can recognize individual conspecifics (and maybe other stomatopod sp) by their smell. This is not a widespread ability at all in animals, and its occurence in mantis shrimps shows how behaviorally complex and fascinating these critters are.

Just before the show ended, there was a segment of a huge slipper lobster blundering into the burrow of a Peacock mantis. The stomatopod hit it twice with its raptorial appendages and completely destroyed one of the lobster's heavy duty claws before the lobster could get out of the way.

After the show, there was a promo segment that really was cool. It showed an unfinished rubik's cube being thrown to a Peacock mantis, which takes it into its home cavity, while continuously turning the object using its appendages. Cut to a view of the mantis throwing the rubik's cube back out, the camera focuses, and lo and behold, the cube had been completely solved!

Which proves that stomatopods are the smartest invertebrates - LOL!

- ASJ

Web Site Author: A. Sunjian
Site Created February 3, 1998
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