The peacock mantis shrimp, one of hundreds of species of mantis shrimp, can swing its front appendage, or club, at speeds of 50 mph – roughly the same acceleration as a 22-caliber bullet.
The colorful shrimp indigenous to Indonesian waters uses its swift punch to smash apart the shells of snails, mollusks, crabs and other prey.
At the Shedd Aquarium, the small-but-mighty shrimp’s enclosure requires special materials due to the animal’s capability to shatter glass.
“The exhibit we have this animal in is actually not glass, it’s acrylic, so it’s a little more sturdy and shock absorbent,” said Keoki Burton, the aquarium’s supervisor of special exhibits. “Plus, that acrylic is three to four times thicker than the rest of the exhibits that we have here on display.”
Researchers from Harvard University and Duke University recently mimicked the shrimp’s spring-loaded latch mechanism by building a small robot that swings at about a quarter the speed of the mantis shrimp’s punch.
“We were able to get in water, about 5 meters per second while mantis shrimp are able to get 20 meters per second,” said Harvard graduate student Emma Steinhardt, the study’s co-author. “Nature is still winning, but give us like a year and maybe we’ll win — nature does have some things up its sleeve that we can’t necessarily do in engineering.”
Steinhardt said engineering could potentially borrow from biology by incorporating the mantis shrimp’s rapid, explosive motion in military robots that jump and punch with great force.
The study published Aug. 17 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences was funded by the U.S. Army.
Visitors to the Shedd can visit the aquarium’s peacock mantis shrimp in the Underwater Beauty exhibit.
Contact Evan Garcia: @EvanRGarcia