Stomatopod Punching Bag

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Photo: Stomatopod aggressive display. Although usually they pull their arms further out to the side. The arms are the parts that have the small purple spot on them. Hopefully I’ll get a better photo soon!

Stomatopods are aggressive creatures. They have deadly weapons which can punch as fast as a .22 bullet and they do not hesitate to use them. In fact, I’m quite glad I work with a small species, otherwise I would have needed several stitches by now.

They do not only direct their aggression at me, but frequently it is directed towards another stomatopod. However, they don’t tend to go straight to the punching, they do some fierce displays first. Like many other animals (think frilled neck lizard), they try to make themselves bigger to appear more fearsome. They pull their raptorial appendages (these are the punching arms) out to the side and lift their body up. This could happen a couple of times before anything more brutal.

If neither runs away after this display, then things get more physical. One will move towards the other one, and, if it doesn’t lose its nerve, will try to punch its opponent! In many cases one will punch, then quickly curl up into a defensive ball, in case the other one retaliates. Sometimes they will exchange several punches before one admits defeat and runs away.  Probably a good move since they are known to sometimes kill one another in these fights.

These interactions are over very quickly and there’s always a clear winner. In Belize I spend most of my days watching stomatopods behaving aggressively which hasn’t (yet) got boring. Such feisty, charismatic critters.

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