Called "sea locusts" by ancient Assyrians, "prawn killers" in Australia and now sometimes referred to as "thumb splitters" by modern divers — because of the relative ease the creature has in mutilating small appendages — mantis shrimp sport powerful claws that they use to attack and kill prey by spearing, stunning or dismemberment. Mantis shrimp can break through aquarium glass with a single strike from this weapon .
Both types strike by rapidly unfolding and swinging their raptorial claws at the prey, and are capable of inflicting serious damage on victims significantly greater in size than themselves. In smashers, these two weapons are employed with blinding quickness, with an acceleration of 10,400 g and speeds of 23 m/s from a standing start , about the acceleration of a .22 caliber bullet. Because they strike so rapidly, they generate cavitation bubbles between the appendage and the striking surface . The collapse of these cavitation bubbles produces measurable forces on their prey in addition to the instantaneous forces of 1,500 N that are caused by the impact of the appendage against the striking surface, which means that the prey is hit twice by a single strike; first by the claw and then by the collapsing cavitation bubbles that immediately follow . Even if the initial strike misses the prey, the resulting shock wave can be enough to kill or stun the prey.
The snap can also produce sonoluminescence from the collapsing bubble. This will produce a very small amount of light and high temperatures in the range of several thousand Kelvin within the collapsing bubble, although both the light and high temperatures are too weak and short-lived to be detected without advanced scientific equipment. The light emission and temperature increase probably have no biological significance but are rather side-effects of the rapid snapping motion. Pistol shrimp produce this effect in a very similar manner.
Smashers use this ability to attack snails, crabs, molluscs and rock oysters; their blunt clubs enabling them to crack the shells of their prey into pieces. Spearers, on the other hand, prefer the meat of softer animals, like fish, which their barbed claws can more easily slice and snag.
Mantis shrimp possess hyperspectral colour vision, allowing up to 12 colour channels extending in the ultraviolet. Their eyes (both mounted on mobile stalks and constantly moving about independently of each other) are similarly variably coloured, and are considered to be the most complex eyes in the animal kingdom. They permit both serial and parallel analysis of visual stimuli.
Each compound eye is made up of up to 10,000 separate ommatidia of the apposition type. Each eye consists of two flattened hemispheres separated by six parallel rows of highly specialised ommatidia, collectively called the midband, which divides the eye into three regions. This is a design which makes it possible for mantis shrimp to see objects with three different parts of the same eye. In other words, each individual eye possesses trinocular vision and depth perception. The upper and lower hemispheres are used primarily for recognition of forms and motion, not colour vision, like the eyes of many other crustaceans.
Rows 1-4 of the midband are specialised for colour vision, from ultra-violet to infra-red. The optical elements in these rows have eight different classes of visual pigments and the rhabdom is divided into three different pigmented layers (tiers), each adapted for different wavelengths. The three tiers in rows 2 and 3 are separated by colour filters (intrarhabdomal filters) that can be divided into four distinct classes, two classes in each row. It is organised like a sandwich; a tier, a colour filter of one class, a tier again, a colour filter of another class, and then a last tier. Rows 5-6 are segregated into different tiers too, but have only one class of visual pigment (a ninth class) and are specialised for polarisation vision. They can detect different planes of polarised light. A tenth class of visual pigment is found in the dorsal and ventral hemispheres of the eye.
The midband only covers a small area of about 5°-10° of the visual field at any given instant, but like in most crustaceans, the eyes are mounted on stalks. In mantis shrimps the movement of the stalked eye is unusually free, and can be driven in all possible axes, up to at least 70°, of movement by eight individual eyecup muscles divided into six functional groups. By using these muscles to scan the surroundings with the midband, they can add information about forms, shapes and landscape which cannot be detected by the upper and lower hemisphere of the eye. They can also track moving objects using large, rapid eye movements where the two eyes move independently. By combining different techniques, including saccadic movements, the midband can cover a very wide range of the visual field.
Some species have at least 16 different photoreceptor types, which are divided into four classes (their spectral sensitivity is further tuned by colour filters in the retinas), 12 of them for colour analysis in the different wavelengths (including four which are sensitive to ultraviolet light) and four of them for analysing polarised light. By comparison, humans have only four visual pigments. The visual information leaving the retina seems to be processed into numerous parallel data streams leading into the central nervous system, greatly reducing the analytical requirements at higher levels.
One species has been reported to be able to detect circular polarized light.
The eyes of mantis shrimp may make them able to recognise different types of coral, prey species (which are often transparent or semi-transparent), or predators, such as barracuda, which have shimmering scales. Alternatively, the manner in which mantis shrimp hunt (very rapid movements of the claws) may require very accurate ranging information, which would require accurate depth perception.
The fact that those with the most advanced vision also are the species with the most colourful bodies, suggests the colour vision has taken the same direction as the peacock's tail.
During mating rituals, mantis shrimp actively fluoresce, and the wavelength of this fluorescence was shown to match the wavelengths detected by their eye pigments . Females are only fertile during certain phases of the tidal cycle; the ability to perceive the phase of the moon may therefore help prevent wasted mating efforts. It may also give mantis shrimp information about the size of the tide, which is important for species living in shallow water near the shore.
In a lifetime, they can have as many as 20 or 30 breeding episodes. Depending on the species, the eggs can be laid and kept in a burrow, or carried around under the female's tail until they hatch. Also depending on the species, male and female come together only to mate or bond in monogamous long-term relationships.
In the monogamous species, the mantis shrimp remain with the same partner for up to 20 years. They share the same burrow, and there are reasons to suspect that these pairs can coordinate their activities. Both sexes often take care of the eggs (biparental care). In Pullosquilla and some species in Nannosquilla, the female will lay two clutches of eggs, one that the male tends and one that the female tends. In other species, the female will look after the eggs while the male hunts for both of them. Once the eggs hatch the offspring may spend up to three months as plankton.
Most stomatopods display the standard locomotion types as seen in true shrimp and lobsters. One species, Nannosquilla decemspinosa, has been observed flipping itself into a crude wheel. The species lives in shallow, sandy areas. At low tides, N. decemspinosa is often stranded by its short rear legs, which are sufficient when the body is supported by water. The mantis shrimp then performs a forward flip, in an attempt to roll towards the next tidepool. N. decemspinosa has been observed to roll repeatedly for 2 m, but typically specimens travel less than 1 m.
In Japanese cuisine, the mantis shrimp is eaten raw as sashimi and as a sushi topping, and is called shako (蝦蛄). It is commonly served in Japan, but is not often found on the menu at sushi restaurants in the United States .
In Cantonese cuisine, the mantis shrimp is a popular dish known as "pissing shrimp" (攋尿蝦, Mandarin pinyin: lài niào xiā, modern Cantonese: laaih niuh hā) due to its tendency to urinate when cooked . Because of this, mantis shrimp are speared to induce them to evacuate their bowels prior to being introduced into the cookpot . After cooking, their flesh is closer to that of lobsters than that of shrimp, and like lobsters, their shells are quite hard and require some pressure to crack.
The usual concerns associated with consuming seafood are an issue with mantis shrimp, as they may dwell in contaminated waters. This is especially true in Hawaii where some have grown unnaturally large .