Creature Feature

6 08 2010

In my last post I alluded to a mystery creature that we found in the lagoon last Saturday.

We are both fascinated by aquatic creatures, and both aspired to be marine biologists as children. So, when AJ pointed out an interesting hole in the sand bar, we were intrigued. As we continued to snorkel, we observed a handful of these perfectly round holes. The largest one I saw was approximately 3″ in diameter.

Most interesting was that the holes appeared very deep and resembled underwater volcanoes. It was obvious that a good-sized creature had created the mound when excavating its den.

Not long after AJ and I had met, we took a trip down to the Florida Keys, where we went snorkeling together for the first time. I recently found the photos from that trip and almost had a heart attack when I saw a particular photo of myself holding a huge, live cone snail. I’ve since learned (thankfully not the hard way) that this was a terrible idea. One sting from a cone snail, and you are pretty much a goner. There is no anti-venom for the deadly poison of this mollusk. I unwittingly escaped a painful demise on that day; and have since developed a high level of respect for sea critters.

So, when we found these mysterious volcano-shaped holes, last weekend, we were cautiously curious. I did drop a pinch of sand into one hole and could vaguely make out what looked like a prehistoric monster peering up at me. It looked almost like a disfigured lobster or a strange crab. I doubted that it were either of these, though; as its body shape had to be conducive to the perfectly cylindrical excavation.

Later, AJ found a remnant of a creature near one of the holes. This led us to believe that either the resident or its prey was some sort of crustacean. If you know me at all, then you will probably have guessed that I spent a good hour or so on Google that night. I did finally ID the creature.

I’ll show you the remnant AJ found, and will give you one hint. “I am very glad I did not have the opportunity to pick up one of these bad boys.”  If you want to guess what it is, stop at the picture. I will post the answer below.

Mystery-Critter

What does this look like to you? I started by searching for crabs, because it is hinged and looks like a bizarre crab claw. To his credit, AJ had suggested what it reminded him of, but at 2″ long, it seemed large for a shrimp part. We ran the gamut from crab to lobster to horseshoe crab, but nothing seemed to fit.

Finally, I remembered what AJ had mentioned and searched “Mantis Shrimp”. Sure enough, we had a match!

I’m not positive, but it seems that we came across Squilla empusa. If you are really interested, you can search this character and find out all the sciencey stuff about him. Otherwise, here is a quick breakdown:

Mantis Shrimp are neither mantids, nor shrimp. They are stomatopods, and are related to crabs, shrimp, lobster and even the roly-polies you find in the garden.

After reading a bit about Mantis Shrimp, however, I think I’d prefer a crab pinch over the damage done by the claw AJ found. Stomatopods are distinguished by two types of claws “Smashers” or “Spearers”. Smashers have a club-like claw and use blunt force trauma to disable their prey, Spearers, well, “spear” their prey with the appendage pictured above. I can attest that this device is very sharp. This is one critter you don’t want to piss off! They are commonly known, by shrimpers, as “Thumb Splitters”, as just about every shrimper has encountered a Mantis Shrimp injury. When AJ and I were in the shrimp selling business, these primitive creatures would occasionally appear in the bags with our stock. I was fascinated enough to take a photo of one (although I cannot find it now).

Mantis shrimp make one of the fastest movements of any animal on earth. They make a “popping” sound as the movement of their claws is as fast as a .22 caliber bullet and creates a sound wave which causes the cavitation of air bubbles. The bubbles “emit light and produce heat in the range of several thousand Kelvin” as described in this article “The Science Behind Stomatopods”. Although admired and collected by some, they are generally thought to be a nuisance by aquarium enthusiasts, as they decimate the other inhabitants, and can even break the aquarium glass with their powerful strike.

As a foraging enthusiast, the trait I find most interesting is that these creatures get as large as 12″ long and are said to be delicious; with a flavor resembling lobster.

With our new found knowledge we will be aware of these feisty critters and will stay poised for the opportunity to grab a couple of them up for gastronomical experimentation.

Broiled Mantis Shrimp, anyone?

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2 responses

6 08 2010
Karen Swinson/Mom

I am loving this! Only you two could find such a creature and then identify it. I want to come down this month and search for this creature too. I do want to taste one or two…..how about “Mantis on Horseback”? That would be wrapped with bacon, spritzed with a little soy sauce and broiled…..YUM!

6 08 2010
trailerparkqueen

We would love to see you this month! You are welcome any time. We have been off for five days straight. It might happen again in two weeks, before we start picking up more work. Love your “Mantis on Horseback” idea.

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