#FunFactFriday: A colony of snapping shrimp makes enough noise to interfere with sonar.

Photo courtesy of the Encyclopedia of Life

Also referred to as the pistol shrimp, the snapping shrimp (family Alphidae) holds the title as the loudest creature on the planet. These tiny crustaceans can be found in most tropical and subtropical coastal waters and have two distinct claws, a pincer and a huge “pistol” that can reach up to half the length of the animal’s body. The shrimp uses this large specialized claw to stun prey; snapping it shut creates a cavitation bubble, which produces temperatures up to 18000°F, a flash of light, and a snapping sound that can reach 218 decibels (for comparison, a fighter jet at take-off produces about 150 decibels). This is one heckuva a punch for a creature that only reaches about two centimeters long! Underwater, these snaps may only sound like popcorn to a human, but it adds up to a shock wave that is powerful enough to kill some of the shrimp’s smaller prey instantly.

For all its power, the shrimp is still preyed upon itself and forms symbiotic relationships with many other ocean creatures for protection. Some species of snapping shrimp will take shelter in sea anemones and coral, and in return, help drive away crown-of-thorns starfish when they prowl too close. Individuals of another species are known to live with gobies that serve as roommates and sentries. Still others form massive colonies in sponges, with hundreds of individuals living together with a single breeding pair. It’s these massive gatherings that, at times, collectively produce enough noise to hide submarines from sonar.

Here’s four more facts about these teeny-tiny powerhouses:

  • Only one half of a shrimp’s snapping claw is mobile, but it can shut the claw at about 62 miles per hour (100 km/h).
  • Some species of snapping shrimp use the concussive power of their snap to drill into rocks to build their burrows.
  • If a shrimp loses its snapping claw, the other (pincer) claw will begin to morph into a pistol, while the lost claw will grow back as a pincer.
  • Mantis shrimp also use a cavitation-packed punch to stun and kill prey.

#FunFactFriday is a biweekly series where I dedicate a post to a completely random, interesting fact – because the world is a pretty darn random, interesting place.

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