The mantis shrimp is one of evolution’s greatest hits—literally. This pugnacious crustacean (not technically a shrimp) cocks back its hammer-limbs and smashes prey with such ferocity, a shockwave blows the claws clean off crabs and crumples clamshells like they were papier-mâché. Really, there isn’t much on the tropical seafloor that the mantis shrimp can’t destroy and consume, so long as the prey isn’t too big.
But the mantis shrimp appears to have met its match in the disco clam, a bivalve whose name I didn’t just make up. When the predator faces this prey, the clam simply opens up its shell to reveal a brilliant ribbon of flashing light. If the mantis shrimp keeps up the attack, it’ll go catatonic for up to 15 minutes. The disco clam is saved, and the mantis shrimp is not only out of a meal but is itself at risk of being eaten, by hanging out there like a punch-drunk prizefighter.
What on Earth is going on with this most bizarre of aquatic matchups? We sat down with biologist Lindsey Dougherty, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, who studies the two combatants, in the video above.
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