Published: November 2007
Did you Know?
In Did you Know? the National Geographic magazine team shares extra information we gathered to expand your knowledge of our featured subjects.
The larval mantis shrimp portrayed in the Marine Microfauna story may look innocuous enough, but when it grows full size, it will develop what some researchers call the strongest punch in the animal kingdom. Forceful enough to break shell and glass, too swift to see without slow-motion replay, the boxer punch of some mantis shrimp may reach a speed of 23 meters a second (51 miles an hour)!

Predatory crustaceans, the 450 species of mantis shrimp (a misnomer since the "shrimp" is actually a stomatopod, distantly related to shrimp, crabs, and lobsters) feed on slow-moving coral reef snails, other shelled marine invertebrates, and passing fish. For some, sledgehammer-like forelimbs deliver pounding blows, smashing the shells of prey with forces in excess of one hundred times the shrimp's own body weight.

In 2004, biologist Sheila Patek discovered the key to the mantis shrimp's one-punch knockout: a saddle-shaped structure in the hammer limb that can absorb and store large amounts of energy, and later release it like a spring. Patek suspects that the impact also derives some of its devastating power from a process called inertial cavitation, in which bubbles created by the hammer's swing collapse violently and create a shock wave. Shell and glass alike buckle under the combined force of the shock waves and the mantis shrimp's hammer.

Other mantis shrimp use the same mechanism with one variant—instead of a clubbed limb, they have barbed, spearlike appendages to impale passing prey.

—Gabrielle E. Montanez