The wacky and wild eyed mantis shrimp is a crazy critter in many ways. I’ll start with the impressively long scientific name: Hemisquilla ensigera californiensis. A name that rolls right off the tongue, but not one suited for easy recall.
There are actually 400 species of mantis shrimp. The one in the photo, the same one possessing that crazy scientific name, is the species of mantis shrimp living off Southern California’s coast. This also happens to be the mantis shrimp on display at Cabrillo Aquarium.
I was lucky to get this photo because most of the time the mantis shrimp hangs out in his burrow. He’s not really the social type you see. And don’t let that goofy face fool you because the mantis shrimp doesn’t joke around. If you try to say hello or stick our your hand out to pet one in the wild on a SCUBA diving trip, you will be lucky to return to the surface unscathed. The mantis shrimp has powerful claws that can inflict serious damage, which are used to crush clam and muscle shells and ward off opponents. A friend gave me an little article on another species of mantis shrimp that ran in the December 2010 issue of the Smithsonian magazine and it refers to the claw as a “spring-loaded hammer-arm.”
As you can see in the photo, the SoCal mantis shrimp has beautiful bright blue coloring on its front appendages. It’s tough to tell, but all the coloring is bright. A rainbow of blue, red, orange and yellow. According to Wikipedia, mantis shrimp have the most complex eyes in the animal kingdom. (I realize Wikipedia is not always an accurate resource, but the mantis shrimp article looks pretty well-researched.)
Technically, mantis shrimp are not shrimp. They get their name from looking like a cross between a praying mantis and a shrimp. Their unique traits granted them their own scientific order called Stomatopoda. My hope is to find an expert to interview and write a column on the mantis shrimp because the Wikipedia article discusses many fascinating traits I would like to verify before writing about. So until then, I hope this is enough to wet your appetite. But remember if you meet one, stick to a simple bow greeting keeping your arms at your sides like at the beginning of a karate tournament, otherwise your hand could fall victim to a mantis shrimp karate chop.