Snapping Shrimp

As submarines became a staple of battle in the World War era and sonar matured into a necessary tool, humans began to notice something odd in the depths. Something very weird was messing with our ability to hear sufficiently underwater. It wasn’t a Kraken; it wasn’t dolphins; it wasn’t whales.

It was a two-inch shrimp.

The ocean is actually a noisy place and perhaps the most clamorous being is the Snapping Shrimp, AKA Pistol Shrimp, scientific name Alpheidae.  Alpheidae is a family, which contains over 1,100 individual species. The Snapping Shrimp is a marvel of supernatural strength. It wields a weapon on one arm as powerful as the sun.

A triple threat of fist power: Dave Grohl in Everlong; Freddie Sykes in Twin Peaks; Snapping Shrimp in Real Life.

Mostly living in tropical and semi-tropical waters, these shrimp possess asymmetrical claws. One is normal and one is a behemoth, usually over half the shrimp’s body size. Most shrimp claws have pincers. The Snapping Shrimp has a pistol instead. When utilized, the claw emits a cavitation bubble, a phenomenon in which rapid changes of pressure in a liquid lead to the formation of small vapor-filled cavities, in places where the pressure is relatively low.

The powerful wave of bubbles can literally stun other fish.

And the pulse can break glass.

And the bubbles can release a sound that hits 218 decibels (jet engines = 140; shotgun blast = 160; rocket launch = 180)

And the bubbles reach 4,700 °C, just 800 degrees shy of the surface of the sun.

And the pulse races from the claw at about 62 miles per hour.

And the pulse produces light, through a process called sonoluminescence.

If it were April 1, you might think I made up everything above. But I didn’t; it’s real.

With all that power, it’s easy to see how colonies of these shrimp can disrupt sonar and underwater communication. Certain areas of the oceans are notorious for their difficulty for submarines. Sometimes the submersibles will even use these regions to attempt to hide from other crafts. And if giant metal tubes and sophisticated equipment have issues with the minuscule shrimp, poor aquatic creatures of diminutive size stand no chance.

The supernatural capabilities don’t end there. Cut off the weaponized claw and stymy the shrimp, right? Nope. The smaller claw becomes the giant claw and the severed claw regrows as the smaller side.

This shrimp harbors otherworldly powers - photo by Arthur Anker

The shrimp also forms a defensive symbiosis with goby fishes. The shrimp builds and tends a burrow into which both animals will retreat if danger approaches. The goby fish has better eyesight and provides alerts to the shrimp about incoming issues.

So this shrimp has a superhero-like weapon and it can regenerate and it has a buddy that compensates for its weakness. Prototypical comic book being, straight out of reality.

Further Reading and Exploration

Slow Motion Pistol Shrimp Attack – Video by BBC Earth Unplugged

Sea Creatures Trouble Sonar Operators – 1947 New York Times Article

Goby Fish and Pistol Shrimp (21st Century Junior Library: Better Together) – by Kevin Cunningham (e-book version)

The Pistol Shrimps DVD – This humorous documentary follows a ragtag group of actresses, musicians, writers, comedians, and moms who come together to form a women’s recreational basketball team. Among the trash-talking, hard-fouling, wise-cracking players bringing a needed edge to the game are point guard and funny lady Aubrey Plaza, model Melissa Stetten, and actress Maria Blasucci. Haters need not apply.

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