The Incredible Mantis Shrimp

The Oatmeal would be my favorite comic, information pills if Matthew Inman wasn’t inclined to be a tad vulgar more often than not. But he does love science and cool things. One of those cool things is the Mantis Shrimp.

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Mantis shrimp are known scientifically as ‘stomatopods”. What a great name! I can’t take it seriously, though. Come on – stomach + tomato + pod. Who did the naming? Put them together and I’m thinking of a kind of permanent home in front of the TV for a large man with a remote control (operated by a thumb as powerful as the basher on a real stomatopod)

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Stomatopod also became the name of an obscure university journal in the early 70’s, created by the fictional “American Stomatopod Society” (check the initials). It contained all sorts of typically eclectic university writing, but there was a recurring cartoon about a mantis shrimp named “Squilla”.

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I saw my first Mantis Shrimp in Penang. Probably ate my first an hour or so after that. Perhaps I ate the first one I saw. Who knows? I do know they taste delicious – better than lobster, prawns or crabs.

The mantis shrimp ready for eating. Expensive, but well worth it.

If you read all of Matthew’s comic, you’ll know about their ‘murder sticks’. There are apparently two kinds. One stabs, the other bashes. In America, the colloquial name for these creatures is “thumb-splitters” because fisherman occasionally end up on the receiving end of these mini thermo-nuclear devices. Back in 2008 I took some photos of young kids fishing for something in the Penang mud flats at low tide.

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One kid in particular was hard at it for a couple of hours. He would skate around on his board and then stop somewhere to shove his whole arm deep into the mud.

There's one in here somewhere

He came up to meet his Mum afterward, and probably to deliver his catch so she could sell it. He obligingly tipped his catch onto the ground to show me what he had been hunting for:

These are mantis shrimp.  It's what the kids are looking for.  They receive the equivalent of about a dollar for each one.

Mantis Shrimp! These look like the spearing variety. Of course, I didn’t know anything about these awesome creatures at the time, so wasn’t as suitably impressed at his handling skills (or bravery?) as I should have been.

Mighty shrimp hunter with proud mum in the background.

I guess this is what he was feeling (aaargh!) around in the mud for…