I went sculling this morning under grey, windless skies, taking advantage of a rare chance to get out on smooth water in November before things shut down late next month. I walk down Old Shore Road with the shell on my head, and launch at the bottom of the hill next to the new boat ramp. As I stepped into the shallows I saw this cool creature, about eight to ten inches long, dead, but only recently so gauging from its good condition.
This is a mantis shrimp – at first I thought it was a lobster tail some well-to-do bait fisherman had discarded after an expedition for a big striped bass (lobster tails are legendarily good bait, but at current prices, better in one’s stomach) – according to Wikipedia, mantis shrimp are so named for their resemblance to a Praying Mantis, but they are not shrimp. They are also known as “thumb splitters” by scuba divers because of their ability to destroy an appendage brought too close to their mandibles. Indeed, they can allegedly shatter aquarium glass and are apparently highly intelligent creatures.
The Chinese call them “pissing shrimp” for their penchant to void their bowels while being cooked.
I have never seen one of these on Cape Cod before, but know from saltwater fly fishing that they do “move” into southern New England waters in the fall and have the fastest “strike” time of any creature in the world. The Cape is their northernmost range on the eastern seaboard, and I know from experience that the south side of Cape Cod, jutting out as it does into the Gulf Stream, is last stop for a lot of tropical species which work their way up the coast all summer, only to get stunned and stranded by the first chills of the fall. A manatee died last month after making its way to Dennis, and there have been catches of tarpon, barracuda, and tiger sharks in Nantucket Sound in the past.
Here’s a video of one attack a crab.