It is taking all my restraint not to post this entire comic. But I want you to visit The Oatmeal and experience all its riches, so: Why The Mantis Shrimp Is My New Favorite Animal.
If you haven’t clicked through yet, let me add a little incentive: a later panel of this comic contains the line “The mantis shrimp is the harbinger of blood-soaked rainbows.”
And if you would like to know even MORE about these miraculous creatures, we have a Radiolab episode for you, complete with a Mantis Shrimp choir.
The Oatmeal doesn’t miss the mark on the bizarre superlatives that the mantis shrimp earned through evolution. Not only do they see an incredible range of colors, these beasties are some of the most ferocious animals on the planet, throwing bullet-speed punches with super strong yet remarkably lightweight weaponry.
The comic mentions that these creatures shatter aquarium glass, which makes the experiments revealing their uncanny vision and battle skills very difficult. Brookhaven scientists use x-rays to figure out how nature built the mantis shrimp (and how we could potentially mimic nature for better armor), and while we were talking to them about their work, one of the scientists told us a great little detail about their collaborator’s lab:
A laboratory at University of California, Davis—responsible for all kinds of studies into hyper-evolved marine life—uses Kevlar tanks to house the shrimps. Makes sense, right? Bullet-proof material for bullet-fast blows. And you can hear the mantis shrimps eerily thwapping those Kevlar walls, trying to escape.
We use our National Synchrotron Light Source to reveal the internal structure of these amazing biological lances and hammers—mantis shrimp have both—and figure out how the mantis shrimp fires the same armor-piercing, bullet-speed punch 50,000 times. It turns out that a multi-tiered structure combines the hard mineral hydroxyapatite (found in human bones and teeth) with shock absorption from flexible chitin (a complex sugar) fibers.
But surely no weapon can survive forever. It’s a good thing, then, that these thumb-splitters (actual nickname!) shed damaged fists and grow new ones whenever necessary.
Bonus trivia: Why have such insane optical sensors? Here’s one theory: When mating, mantis shrimp send messages to each other through their bioluminescent tails, and these flashes are tuned to specific wavelengths. Who doesn’t love a multi-spectrum romance that plays out across colors we can’t even imagine?