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'Bloodthirsty' Mantis Shrimp Turn Harmless When Sparring

Sep 27, 2015 05:42 PM EDT

The mantis shrimp is undoubtedly one of the most incredible creatures you will find scuttling across the ocean floor. Colored in more stunning hues than the human eye can see and armed with fatal striking arms, this predator is as deadly as it is beautiful. Now researchers have determined that it's also prudent, purposely striking only protected parts of their neighbor's shells when battling for territory.

While this stomatopod (not actually a shrimp) may be most easily recognized for its stunning colors and "superbly tuned" eyes, its unique weapon of choice is what has earned the mantis shrimp its infamy.

Popular internet cartoonist and nature-lover The Oatmeal once called the mantis shrimp an "undersea nightmare, and one of the most creatively violent animals on Earth," and he wasn't joking. (Scroll to read on...)

The shrimp boasts two "fists" that fold much like the claws of a praying mantis (hence the name). Observations of this remarkable creature have shown that using these appendages, the shrimp can throw punches with 1,500 newtons of force - so strong that they cause tiny undersea shockwaves that demolish prey even if the "fist" doesn't make contact.

Such deadly arms would understandably make a friendly spar between neighboring stomatopod's a little difficult. After all, each scuffle over whose 'lawn' ends where would likely turn into one or both contenders being blown to shrimp bits.

However, in the interest of a good-clean fight, the species has found a way around this. According to a study recently published in the Royal Society Biology Letters, the animals' backsides (telson) are thick and specially protected to withstand a mantis punch.

What's more, battling mantis shrimp seem to aim for this spot on their opponents, meaning that they have no intention of killing another of their normally bloodthirsty kind. Still, this doesn't mean that the animals try to avoid fights all together. In 34 encounter's where two shrimp 'squared off' threateningly - puffing themselves up in a bid to scare a rival away - 33 resulted in boxing matches.

And the winner was always clear. Whichever boxer landed the most blows (aiming for the telson), won the match, with the loser slinking away with his pride - but not his body - a bit worse for wear.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

 - follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS

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