Critter from the Bay: Mantis shrimp

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.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

13 thoughts on “Critter from the Bay: Mantis shrimp”

  1. i am very happy to hear that Cape is their Northernmost range on the Eastern seaboard, b/c that thing is horrifying. it’s almost Lovecraftian.

  2. I inadvedrtently caught a manis shrimp four yeas ago down here in San Diego. they are a particularly evil looking creature and i can attest to how fast they can strike, If there hadn’t been a DFG biologist checking catches on the boat ramp I would have never found out what the hell the thing was.


  3. i aint afraida them shrimpts. think i et ’em over in ole Siam. sompin likem, sure. tastes like lobster, only i wouldn’t et it dead.

  4. crazy looking creature……recently caught one in san diego bay. it took a grub and wild looking it was. daughter and i were confused as to what is was. good ole google brought me here and wala her it is.

  5. Thanks for posting information on the mantis shrimp! My dad had caught one earlier today (in Guam) and we were wondering what the heck it was! lol.

  6. I found one today in Hyannis,Cape Cod that appears to have died in the last few days. I’ve never seen one in my whole life on the Cape. It was in the harbor where i had been
    dredging way up in a small creek.

  7. this answer all our curiousity… we caught one here in Guam and thought it was in a lobster family. so it is exotic… nice to know.

  8. Found on yesterday on the shore of Hammonasset beach in Connecticut. It looked exactly like this picture and was in excellent condition. We brought it to the Nature Center there, and they said they’d keep it for their displays.

  9. My son caught one yesterday while we were fishing at Cape Canaveral naval station in Florida. He was a lot smarter than his old man because he knew what it was. I just wanted to confirmed his answer and your post just did. Thanks!


  10. Found one 2 days ago at Daytona Beach while digging in wet sand. It was only 2 inches long.

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