Pistol shrimp makes full use of its ‘gun’ to survive

The bigclaw snapping shrimp (Alpheus heterochaelis) is part of the family of pistol shrimps. Pistol shrimps have one disproportionately large claw and make distinct snapping sounds when they close their claws. Its relatively small size might make it seem like a vulnerable creature in the dangerous waters. However, what is remarkable about the bigclaw snapping shrimp is the deadly weapon it possesses to aid in its survival.

As the name aptly suggests, pistol shrimps own a ‘pistol’ which nature graciously endowed to it. This weapon is used to shoot and stun prey, giving bigclaw snapping shrimps the opportunity to feast on other sea creatures such as worms, fishes or even crabs. How does that happen?

The weapon is actually this shrimp’s humongous claw. When that claw snaps shut very rapidly, bubbles are blasted out like a bullet being shot. Subsequently, as these bubbles collapse, a strong shock wave is produced (Versluis, 2000). The impact from the shot stuns or even kills the target, making it the bigclaw snapping shrimp’s next meal.

Here is an interesting video about how pistol shrimp hunt!

In addition to being utilized for hunting, the claw also signals a shrimp’s fitness and strength. An open claw which looks big signals a heightened competitive ability. Thus, smaller shrimps can exaggerate their size by opening their claws wide; appearing to be bigger than they actually are. Smaller shrimps use this method to deceive bigger competitors when they feel like they are in a disadvantageous position (Hughes, 2000). This strategy can help smaller shrimps avoid and escape unnecessarily dangerous interactions with bigger shrimps.

Thus, we can see how two ingenious ways of using their claws enable the bigclaw snapping shrimps to enhance their chances of surviving in the wild!


Literature cited

Hughes, M., 2000. Deception with honest signals: signal residuals and signal function in snapping shrimp. Behavioral ecology, 11(6): 614-623.

Versluis, M., B. Schmitz, A. von der Heydt & D. Lohse, 2000. How Snapping Shrimp Snap: Through Cavitating Bubbles. Science, 289(5487): 2114-2117.

Video cited

“Pistol Shrimp,” by soner efe. Youtube.com, 30 April 2007. URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKPrGxB1Kzc (accessed on 31 March 2013).