These juvenile snapping shrimp have the fastest claws in the sea

Juvenile snapping shrimp now hold the acceleration record for a repeatable body movement underwater. They can snap their claws at accelerations on par with a bullet shot from a gun. (credit: Harrison and Patek, 2023)

The snapping shrimp, aka the pistol shrimp, is one of the loudest creatures in the ocean, thanks to the snaps produced by its whip-fast claws. And juvenile snapping shrimp are even faster than their fully grown elders, according to a recent paper published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. Juvenile claws accelerate as fast as a bullet shot from a gun when they snap, essentially setting a new acceleration record for a repeated movement performed underwater.

As we’ve reported previously, the source of that loud snap is an impressive set of asymmetrically sized claws; the larger of the two produces the snap. Each snap also produces a powerful shockwave that can stun or even kill a small fish. That shockwave produces collapsing bubbles that emit a barely visible flash of light—a rare natural example of sonoluminescence.

Scientists believe that the snapping is used for communication, as well as for hunting. A shrimp on the prowl will hide in a burrow or similar obscured spot, extending antennae to detect any passing fish. When it does, the shrimp emerges from its hiding place, pulls back its claw, and lets loose with a powerful snap, producing the deadly shockwave. It can then pull the stunned prey back into the burrow to feed.

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