Mantis Shrimp
Hemisquilla californiensis

Physical Description

  • Large body, up to 12 inches in length
  • Strong, well-armored telson, or back flap of the shell
  • Very bright colors – peach back with coral patches, bright blue and yellow legs, bright yellow telson and claws
  • Large compound eyes, which have 16 cones unlike our 3! (more on their eyes below)
  • Second claw capable of very fast strike, the fastest animal movement known! (more on this below!)


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


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


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


  • 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!
  • That 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! 
  • Then there are their eyes. Their large compound eyes can move independently of each other, and can see the same spot 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.

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