Light on the incredible ability of the pistol shrimp

© Arthur Anker/Wikimedia Commons

Very small, but very dangerous, pistol shrimps are fascinating animals. These little crustaceans are indeed exceptional predators, and just by their appearance, we know that these shrimps have a little something special.

A shrimp with a gun attached to its body

Generally speaking, a shrimp is not associated with tremendous strength, an intimidating presence, and certainly not a fearsome predator. Yet there is a species of shrimp that dramatically crushes this stereotype: Alpheus dentipes, or more commonly known as the Pistol Shrimp. At first glance, these shrimp might not look very special. Indeed, they measure on average only 3 to 5 centimeters long for a weight of only 25 grams.

And their appearance would be that of an ordinary shrimp without its two asymmetrical claws, the largest of which is about half the size of the crustacean. It is from this disproportionate claw that the animal takes its name of pistol-shrimp. Because, surprisingly enough, this claw is different from the typical claws in crustaceans and works like a gun. Essentially used to hunt prey or defend against threats, pistol shrimp use their pincers to shoot bubbles.

Water bubbles fired at high speed as bullets

But beware, these are no ordinary bubbles. These bubbles are fired at very high speed – around 100 kilometers per hour – and give off very high heat (around 4,400°C, but confined to a very small area). This combination of speed and heat can stun or even kill prey. Such a feat is achieved by the animal collecting water and expelling it by squeezing the claw with great force. The pressure coming from the small piston on the pliers allows the water to be projected at an impressive speed in the form of bubbles.

You should also know that these bubbles are very noisy. When they burst, these bubbles emit a popping sound that can reach 210 decibels. This is a louder sound than an actual gunshot, which is around 140 to 175 decibels. For this reason, the pistol shrimp is often referred to as “the loudest animal in the sea”. Note that this sound is just as important as the power of the shot, because it deters predators, but also makes the males more attractive to the females of the species.

And the Pistol Shrimp’s power doesn’t stop at its hyper-fast thermal bubbles. The crustacean is indeed able to regenerate its claws in the event of limb loss or injury. According to scientists, it took the species about 100 million years to develop these extraordinary abilities. Even though it has indeed been a long time, the pistol shrimp is still considered one of the most evolved predators in the natural world.

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