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What happens when a mantis shrimp punches a human?

What happens when a mantis shrimp punches a human?

The mantis shrimp, or stomatopod, is a marine crustacean that packs an incredibly powerful punch for its size. Its punch is considered one of the fastest and most forceful movements in the animal kingdom. When a mantis shrimp strikes with its club-like appendages, it can accelerate them at speeds of over 50 mph underwater. The impact generates forces of over 1,500 newtons, which is proportionally more forceful than a 22-caliber bullet. So what would happen if a mantis shrimp turned its pugilistic prowess on a human? Let’s explore the anatomy, mechanics, and potential effects of a mantis shrimp punch against human flesh and bone.

Anatomy of a Mantis Shrimp Punch

Mantis shrimps have two types of raptorial appendages specialized for bludgeoning or spearing prey. Smasher species have club-like appendages with heavy mineralization that they use to deliver hammer-like blows. Spearers have spiny, serrated appendages used in harpoon-like stabs. Both types are incredibly complex, containing multiple segments and joints that allow for ultra-fast motion.

Key anatomical elements of a smasher’s punch include:

– Spring-loaded joints that store elastic energy like a cocked crossbow. They can unleash this energy in a swift motion that accelerates the appendage to high speeds.

– A saddle-shaped region that buckles upon impact. This buckling action allows more energy absorption and transfer into the strike.

– Heavy mineralization and reinforcement on the impact area, which is one of the hardest known biological materials. This “punching glove” minimizes self-harm when striking hard surfaces.

– Motor neurons with super-fast sodium channels that facilitate lightning-fast nerve impulses powering the strike.

When a smasher mantis shrimp punches, a sequential wave of muscle contractions proceed from the shrimp’s shoulder towards the club. Elastic energy releases explosively from the spring-loaded joints, accelerating the club surface to its peak velocity in just 3 milliseconds. The reinforced club surface then buckles to drive maximum force into the target upon impact. This all occurs faster than the human eye can see.

Mechanics and Physics of a Mantis Shrimp Punch

The extreme acceleration of a mantis shrimp punch allows it to overcome the aquatic resistance and hardness of prey shells and other targets. Here are some key mechanics and physics behind these powerful punches:

Acceleration – The appendages can reach accelerations over 10,000 m/s2. For comparison, a .22-caliber bullet accelerates around 12,000 m/s2.

Velocity – Clubs can reach surface velocities of over 50 mph in water and up to 75 mph in air. The fastest recorded punch clocked in at 102 mph!

Force – Punches deliver forces of over 1,500 newtons. Scaling by size, this is equivalent to a human hitting with a force of over 4,000 newtons.

Impact Pressure – Pressures upon impact can exceed 80 megapascals. This is similar to being hit by a hammer moving at highway speeds.

Cavitation Bubbles – The rapid momentum from a punch vaporizes water at the impact site, forming cavitation bubbles that violently collapse and release energy. This contributes to prey damage.

Measurement Mantis Shrimp Punch Human Equivalent (Scaled)
Acceleration Over 10,000 m/s2 Over 27,000 m/s2
Velocity 50-102 mph 135-275 mph
Force Over 1,500 newtons Over 4,000 newtons

Effects on the Human Body

So what kind of damage could a mantis shrimp inflict on a human with one of its ultrafast punches? Here are some potential effects on human bone and soft tissue:

Broken Bones – The extreme forces would easily fracture bones. Hands and feet would likely suffer multiple metacarpal, metatarsal, and phalange breaks similar to a car crash or stomping.

Blunt Force Trauma – Accelerative forces would cause severe bruising and hemorrhaging well beyond the impact site. Internal organs could be damaged.

Penetration Injuries – Spearer punches could penetrate and lacerate flesh. Hemorrhaging and infection risks would be high.

Hydrostatic Shock – The sudden, massive pressure wave through tissue could potentially damage nerves and blood vessels distant from the impact.

Loss of Limb Function – With a punch to an arm or leg, the traumatic damage to bones, muscles, and nerves would likely result in temporary if not permanent impairment of the limb.

A full-force punch aimed at the head or torso has the potential to cause life-threatening injuries including skull fractures, brain hemorrhaging, ruptured organs, collapsed lungs, and major blood vessel damage. Multiple or continued strikes could be fatal.

Body Region Potential Injuries from Mantis Shrimp Punch
Head Skull fractures, brain hemorrhaging, concussion, loss of consciousness, death
Torso Broken ribs, collapsed/punctured lungs, ruptured organs, spinal fractures
Arms/Legs Multiple bone fractures, tissue/nerve damage, limb impairment
Hands/Feet Multiple metacarpal/metatarsal, phalange breaks

Comparison to Other Animal Strikes

The mantis shrimp punch ranks among the most forceful strikes in the animal kingdom. Here’s how it compares to some other powerful animal impacts:

Snapping Shrimp Claw Snap – At peak performance, nearly matches the acceleration and cavitation forces of a mantis shrimp strike.

Tiger Paw Swipe – Estimated at 1,000 newtons of force, significantly less than a mantis shrimp scaled to the same size.

Gorilla Punch – Peak forces around 4,000 newtons, on par with the scaled equivalent of a mantis shrimp.

.22-caliber Bullet – Approximately 1,200 newtons of force, less force than a mantis shrimp strike but more penetrative.

Horse Kick – Recordings of over 10,000 newtons, surpassing a mantis shrimp punch in total force but slower.

So while the mantis shrimp does not have the most powerful punch on absolute terms, its strike is unmatched in speed and acceleration. When adjusted for body size, it packs the strongest accelerative punch known in the biological world, demonstrating the remarkable evolution of this diminutive marine invertebrate.


The mantis shrimp’s specialized appendages allow it to deliver punches with extreme acceleration, speed, and force. If punched by one of these small crustaceans, a human would likely suffer severe blunt force trauma, multiple bone fractures, and potentially debilitating penetration injuries. A strike to a vulnerable area could even be fatal. While humans don’t often interact with these pugilistic creatures, their punch provides insight into the extraordinary adaptations that evolution has produced across life on Earth. Respect the shrimp!