The Incredible Mantis Shrimp

Shrimp are incredible organisms. Not only do they serve as a foundation for many predatory diets, such as dolphins and some seabirds, but they’ve also been known to grace a human table at celebratory occasions. There’s one classification of shrimp that is really cool and has garnered the attention of a number of scientific researchers : Unipeltata more commonly known as Mantis Shrimp, of which there are approximately 400 different types of species.

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Within Unipeltata, the 400 or so species are generally classed into two types: those with spearing claws (barbed tips are used to jab their prey), and those with “hammer” claws (where the clubs are used to crack and smash their prey).   Here’s a quick video of a “Hammer” clawed Mantis Shrimp cracking open a clam shell for dinner. The reason you probably can’t see the actual club striking the clamshell is that, even underwater, it’s actually accelerating faster than a 22 caliber bullet.

Despite their deadly design, the impressive little Mantis Shrimp is being studied to save human lives in the form of body armor and aircraft frames. Dr. David Kisailus from UC Riverside is leading a team of academic researchers and the US Airforce Office of Scientific Research to assess what makes the Mantis Shrimp’s exoskeleton so durable and able to withstand repeated, high velocity blows. Turns out, the claw is made much like human bones, with an internal structure of chitin fibers which, with each layer, rotates slightly until it reaches 180º.

Based on the makeup of the Mantis Shrimp Claw, Kisailus and his team developed a new impact resistant material which ,thus far, has outperformed the aerospace industry control standard. For more information, check out Dr. Kisailus’ recent press release.

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