Although crustaceans may get a bit punchy as they approach their stovetop demise, few would have thought to ask the mantis shrimp — a distant cousin of the lobster — for insight into the fine art of the uppercut. But as Sheila Patek, Wyatt Korff, and Roy Caldwell in the Department of Integrative Biology have discovered, the mantis shrimp strike, which packs the equivalent force of a .22 caliber gunshot, may be one of the fastest animal movements ever observed. Mantis shrimp use their strike to smash open hard-bodied prey such as snails and crabs. In order to glimpse this feat, Patek’s group negotiated with the BBC to borrow equipment capable of recording these animals at a whopping 5000 frames per second. The resulting observations solved the long-standing puzzle of how these creatures are able move so quickly: they use a unique spring-loaded click mechanism, which “looks basically like a Pringle” according to Korff, a graduate student involved in the project. The researchers also observed a rare phenomenon known as cavitation, which, Patek says, “occurs when water vaporizes under low pressure, releasing both light and sound — a consequence of the extreme speed.” Next time you stop in at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, be sure to take a closer look at these remarkable critters, but remember to keep your hands away from the glass.

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