Tag Archives: Critters

Why the mantis shrimp should make you feel inferior.

The mantis shrimp is one of the coolest, most kick-ass animals of the sea, but don’t just take my word for it. Ask for evidence, and ye shall receive. Okay, here goes.

Firstly, these creatures are masters of disguise and illusion, for the mantis shrimp is neither a mantis, nor a shrimp. They are crustaceans, more closely related to lobsters and crabs than to either of their namesakes.

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[PEACOCK MANTIS SHRIMP – NEITHER A PEACOCK, A MANTIS NOR A SHRIMP]

So inaccurate humanoid-given names aside, one factor that immediately gives away the super-cool status of these guys is that the ~400 species of mantis shrimp can be broadly divided into two categories: Spearers and Smashers. SPEARERS. AND. SMASHERS. This name refers to what job the claws on their front appendages do best – namely, whether they have a spike on the end to STAB and SPEAR and IMPALE soft-bodied pray to death, or whether they are equipped with a club, better designed to SMASH and BASH and BLUDGEON hard-bodied neighbours up before chomping down on them for lunch.

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A spearer mantis shrimp in action. Source

Smasher mantis shrimps are particularly incredible – these guys can pack a harder punch than any other living thing, up to 50mph, and bear in mind that’s punching through the resistance of water. The punch of a basher mantis shrimp is often compared to being as powerful as the acceleration of a .22 calibre bullet. Oh, did I mention that the mantis shrimp’s punch is so quick that it causes the surrounding water to boil? THE MANTIS SHRIMP CAN BOIL WATER JUST BY PUNCHING IT.

Mantis shrimps are not only freakishly strong, bludgeoning hulk-crustaceans, they also boast one of the most complex visual systems known to science. To put this into perspective, let’s compare them to us: humans have three colour-receptive cones (red, blue and yellow), which allow us to perceive the world in the rainbow that we do. The mantis shrimp does not have three colour-receptive cones; it has sixteen. It can see colours that we can’t even imagine, including the ultra-violet spectrum. And just to add to their bad-ass image, scientists believe that it is possible that this incredible colour vision evolved in some species primarily for sex! We are not sure of the precise mechanisms by which mantis shrimps use colour for sexual signals, but it is thought that because no other species can see the vast spectrum of colour that certain mantis shrimps utilize, it acts as a secret channel of messaging within the species and therefore cannot be exploited by outsiders and cannot attract the attention of nearby predators. This does help to explain why these creatures are so majestically colourful.

So there you have it. The mantis shrimp is cooler than you are, and is not to be messed with. These colourful boxers and impalers of the sea are spectacular, and I suggest reading the links below to learn more about them. Oh, you probably won’t find many in captivity, though. Aquariums are often reluctant to house them since they destroy any species they are homed with and they have the ability to punch through the glass. TO PUNCH THROUGH THE GLASS. OH MY GOD. Go take a long, hard look in the mirror, puny human. And don’t even attempt to punch your way through it.

You should definitely check out this comic strip by the fantastic Oatmeal - it's way better than this post
http://theoatmeal.com/comics/mantis_shrimp

More info:
On Punching: 
http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2008/07/19/the-mantis-shrimp-has-the-worlds-fastest-punch/

On Vision: 
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080320120732.htm
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Meet my Madagascar Hissing Cockroach friends

Because I have a super-cool job, I spend my time doing super-cool things, and last week was no exception: I basically got paid to get to know these little guys and gals better:

Reader, meet my new bezzies, the Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches. Now I’m aware that these dudes get a bit of a hard time, they have managed to get themselves quite the negative rep. But I hope to change your opinion of them and convince you that these are COOL little creatures.

Let’s start by being shallow and talking about their appearance. Although some species of cockroaches have wings, these ones don’t, which makes them a lot less stressful to handle and easier to show to children, which is handy for me. It is easy to identify between the sexes with this species of cockroach because the males have two lumps on their heads which are often (somewhat optimistically) called “horns”.

Boys being boys, the male roaches use their horny heads to fight each other. The males fight for dominance of a group, head butting and hissing at each other to compete for access to females and resources (like on top of a toilet roll insider, the highest place in the tank, as seems to be the case for our cockroaches). The hissing is a really interesting thing, because the way they achieve their hiss is quite unusual for little invertebrate beasties. While most insects make noises by rubbing parts of their bodies together or through some other vibration medium, our Madagascar hissing cockroaches hiss by exhaling air through their breathing holes (called spiracles), which are located on each segment of their abdomen. The hissing can mean different things – males hiss to attract females, to scare off predators or when fighting with rival males. The females of this species are rather lovely, they don’t tend to fight and are a joy to handle.

Cockroaches are important because they are among nature’s recyclers. They eat almost anything – in the wild this consists of decaying plant and animal matter – and they poo important nutrients back into the soil. As they grow, the cockroaches shed their hard exoskeleton which hilariously and creepily leaves them looking like THIS for a few days:

“Don’t look at me.”

Madagascar hissing cockroaches will molt 6 or 7 times, at which point they will reach sexual maturity and will not molt again.

And now for the question on everyone’s lips… can these beasties really survive a nuclear attack?! I don’t know. But I do know that they can survive up to three weeks without their head. This is because the head is really only essential for eating and drinking, and a single meal can keep these little cold blooded critters going for weeks. As mentioned before, they breathe through pores in their abdomen, and the brain does not control this function. This is in stark contrast to our head, which scientists generally agree is essential to us and other mammals because not only it is home to our rather essential brain, but also losing our head would inevitably result in a massive volume of blood loss which would probably result in death. But insects don’t have this blood pressure that we do, and would not “bleed out”.
Madagascar hissing cockroaches have stolen my heart and now I just have to convince Mr Loris that they would make excellent pets. I’m sure that will go down well.

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