Physical Description

  • Large body, up to 12 inches in length.
  • Have a strong, well-armored telson (back tail flap of the shell).
  • Very bright coloration – peach back with coral patches, bright blue and yellow legs, bright yellow telson and claws.
  • They have large compound eyes, which have 16 cones unlike our 3! (more on their eyes below).
  • Their second claw is capable of very fast strike, the fastest known animal movement! (more on this below).
  • Juvenile mantis shrimp have much less pigmentation and are almost transparent.


  • Point Conception, California to Panama.
  • Off of the Channel Islands and off of many islands off of Baja California, Mexico.


  • Live on calm, sandy sediment in sandy burrows.
  • Live in or near bays, lagoons, island coasts.
  • Sometimes hunt in kelp forests or intertidal zones.
  • Wide depth range, from 10 to 5900 feet.
  • In calm waters, most abundant at 16-55 feet; in rougher waters, abundant at 55-98 feet.


  • Mantis shrimp are reproductively mature at 35-70 days old.
  • Reproduction occurs year-round, and eggs hatch after 9-60 days.
  • Males visit females at their burrows before mating, and have to signal they want to mate, not steal her burrow.
  • Sometimes females prefer smaller males because they are less of a threat to steal her burrow.
  • After internal fertilization, the female watches over the eggs and keeps them clean.
  • The female will not eat anything until her eggs are hatched.


  • Snails, mussels, oysters, crabs, crustaceans, mollusks.


  • Plankton and juvenile mantis shrimp are eaten by jellyfish, fish, and baleen whales.
  • Black sea bass, grouper.

Interesting Facts

  • What isn’t interesting about a mantis shrimp? These are some of the most fascinating creatures on earth.
  • Their punches are strong enough to break glass! Aquariums often have to keep them behind bulletproof glass. Why? Because their spring-loaded claw can release with astonishing speed. Some mantis shrimps can punch at speeds of 75 feet per second! They smash their prey in 2 milliseconds! This is the fastest predatory strike on the planet.
  • Their claw’s superfast release creates a bubble of zero pressure, and that bubble’s cavitation, or collapse, can momentarily create heat as hot as the surface of the sun! The shock of such heat can knock the prey out cold! 
  • Their large compound eyes can move independently of each other, and can see the same point with multiple spots on the same eye, allowing them to judge distance with one eye, unlike our two. 
  • They also have 16 color-receptive cones in their eyes, giving them potential to see colors we can’t even comprehend! And the bulk of the processing of all these colors does not happen in their brain, but within their actual eyes! In fact, their eyes are larger than their brains! 

Sources: Basch and Engle, 1993;;; Wired

Photo: David R. Andrew

See an amazing mantis shrimp on display at Birch Aquarium! Behind protective glass of course. 

Jennifer Taylor and her lab at Scripps study the biomechanics of mantis shrimp and other crustaceans, studying how they use their limbs like powerful weapons and how their incredible strength will change under future ocean conditions.