Sucking Sand and Searching for Shrimp


Coronis scolopendra (C) Amanda Franklin

Last week I decided to extend my mantis shrimp search to new territory: Florida. It’s common knowledge that mantis shrimp abound off the sunny coasts of Florida because this is the source of many mantis shrimp for home aquariums.  For me, the appeal was the chance of finding and capturing one of the elusive burrowing species.

There are two types of mantis shrimp: smashers and spearers.  Smashers live in holes in dead coral or rock and punch their prey. In fact they punch so fast they they create a burst of light when they hit! I’ve found many of these in Belize, poking their heads out of their little hole, watching me.  On the other hand, spearers live in burrows and, surprise surprise, spear their prey! Some species of spearers grow to a foot long and are locally known as “thumb-splitters”. Yes, that is a descriptive term, so be careful!

I was looking for a smaller, less dangerous, spearing species, Coronis scolopendra. To find this critter, I met up with Sherry Reed, a research assistant at the Smithsonian Marine Station in Fort Pierce.  She is well versed in finding mantis shrimp, so I knew I wouldn’t come home empty handed.  At low tide, out we went to the sandy intertidal zone and searched for tiny (~2mm) holes in the sand.  When we found one, we pulled out the yabby pump to suck up the sand and see what was residing in the burrow.  There were worms, bivalves, mud shrimp, crabs and, eventually, mantis shrimp! After sucking sand for about an hour, we came home with only 2 shrimp.  Despite the small number, the trip was still a success because now I know where and how to find these burrowing shrimp!

In the future, I’m hoping to perform a comparison study between the burying species and the cavity dwelling species. Cavity dwellers are supposed to have much better eyesight than the burying species and I would like to investigate how this affects communication during mating (e.g. importance of chemical signals vs visual signals). Stay tuned!

EDIT: I changed the Coronis excavatrix to Coronis scolopendra. Sorry for the error and thanks to Dr Caldwell (UC Berkeley) for pointing it out.