Shrimp punches and squid inks

I recently read a blog about eating your study species. This got me to thinking, what about other quirky science achievements?  Then it hit me, quite literally. What about experiencing your study animal’s defence mechanism?

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Fire coral. Image copyright Amanda Franklin

I’ve heard stories about this, some sounding extremely painful.  It can be anything from a platypus spur releasing painful venom into the wound, to a nasty knock into fire coral or even a hermit crab that just won’t let go.  In my case, the culprits are dumpling squid and mantis shrimp.

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Squid ink. Photo copyright Amanda Franklin.

Dumpling squid don’t really have an overly painful defence mechanism, but they can ink (think Pearl in Finding Nemo). Usually it’s a hindrance when trying to gut or reel in a squid (you’ve probably seen ink stains on docks) but sometimes it can be a delicacy. Either way, if it gets on your clothes, it isn’t coming off. Through working with cute dumpling squid for two years, I quickly learned that they are fiendish little buggers with better aim than an Olympic gold medallist in archery. Moving them between tanks was a risk: would this squid manage to squirt ink in my face? It happened more often than you would expect. Luckily, the stain didn’t last if I got it off quick enough.

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Spot the shrimp. Photo copyright Amanda Franklin

Mantis shrimp on the other hand are nicknamed “thumb-splitters”. They can move their raptorial appendage (yes, it is called that) at 20m/sec, create cavitation bubbles and are rumoured to break aquarium glass. So as you can imagine, I wasn’t too keen on experiencing this, even if I do work with a small species. Nevertheless, it appears that it wasn’t my decision.  Whilst out snorkelling to catch more mantis shrimp I see a tiny little goby peering out of a hole in a chunk of dead coral.  I wanted to get a better look so I picked up the rubble, unwittingly covering up a hole on the other side with my finger.  Almost instantly, I feel a sharp slap, akin to a rubber band flick. So I spin the rubble around and, peaking out of the hole, is a mantis shrimp about 4cm long. Its punch may not have hurt very much, but amplify the strength of that punch to equal the punch of a larger shrimp and I think I’ll stick to avoiding mantis shrimp punches.

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