I mentioned in an earlier post that I got lucky a few weeks ago when I was in the Bay Area and had a day with no meetings.  I got even luckier that the Monterey Bay Aquarium acquired a peacock mantis shrimp about a week earlier. I played hooky and dragged my friend, Vince, with me to see it, and it made my day the way winning the lottery would.  Vince likes visiting the Aquarium as much as the next person, but he was puzzled about why I was so excited to see the mantis shrimp.  I made him read the Oatmeal cartoon on it, but it didn’t fully explain why I derived so much joy from seeing the mantis shrimp in person and shouting, “ONETWOTHREEDEATH!” every 20 minutes on the ride there and back.

I didn’t have an explanation at the time, aside from it being cool.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium has adorable otters and an amazing jellyfish installation, though, both also cool, neither of which inspired the kind of happiness the mantis shrimp did.  I’ve been thinking and researching, trying to figure out why I’m so obsessed with the damned thing, and I finally have

some answers.

I hate zoos, but I love aquariums.  Sea creatures freak me out, and because of this, I’m perfectly happy to see them in an unnatural habitat.  I’m still a little sad for the animals at an aquarium, but watching them mesmerizes me.  They’re beautiful in a completely alien, scary way.  They breathe underwater.  They mostly don’t need light.  They’re omnivores, so to them, I’m just a gigantic serving of food.  They don’t fear me. 

Peacock mantis shrimps have been nicknamed “thumb splitters.”  The reason for this is two-fold:  they have incredibly hard shells (scientists are studying the shells for body armor implications), and they have two front legs they use as clubs that can move at the speed of a .22 caliber bullet.  If you make a move to pick one up while scuba diving, you will probably lose a finger because the peacock mantis shrimp will HULKSMASH it.  Most animals of its size or smaller are deadly because of toxins.  The peacock mantis shrimp is deadly because of brute strength.  As a woman of average height, this appeals to me.

In addition, when you watch video of the peacock mantis shrimp in action (which you can find here, here, and here), you’ll notice that for all the power in its “murder sticks,” the mantis shrimp is not agile.  It skitters around on the ocean floor, waving its stubby legs, and it’s still an aquatic assassin.  I’ve seen a lot of cartoons and comics lately that highlight T. Rex’s ineffectiveness with its little stubby arms.  I understand that these are cartoons and comics and not necessarily based in fact.  Still, the idea is in my head, so seeing the peacock mantis shrimp acting as a clumsy angel of death with its awkward, short, club legs makes it seem fiercer than the T. Rex.

The peacock mantis shrimp at the Monterey Bay Aquarium is housed in the Splash Zone, which is their equivalent to a petting zoo.  We had to ask twice to figure out where it was after roaming the entire rest of the aquarium.  Not only is it in the children’s section of the aquarium, but the tank in which it’s housed is in a tunnel display.  I had to get on my knees and crawl to see it. 

Vince didn’t spend much time in there, partially because he has a bad knee, but mostly because he was a man in a black hoodie lurking in the children’s section of the aquarium.  In retrospect, the parents were also not thrilled to see me in the tunnel, and neither were their children.  But it was worth the side-eye and the discomfort to see the mantis shrimp edge its way out of hiding and head toward me.  If I had waited a couple of minutes longer, I think that it would have tried to ONETWOTHREEDEATH me through the acrylic tank.  Next time.

It started out hidden behind the rock structure, then started moving toward me.

It started out hidden behind the rock structure, then started moving toward me.

Mantis Shrimp 2

It started to move to the front of the tank.

This is what parents and children saw for a good 10 minutes.  No wonder I got so much side-eye.

This is what parents and children saw for a good 10 minutes. No wonder I got so much side-eye.

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  1. JBraley says:

    For the record, I get a little irritated when parents give me stink eye at zoos or aquariums. I’m sorry, I don’t see any signs that say these places are only for families. What is wrong with a grown man or woman wanting to take an afternoon and enjoy the exhibits? Screw you people! Good on you for taking as much time as you liked to enjoy the wonder of the badass mantis shrimp! End rant.

    • Well, to be fair, the mantis shrimp was housed in a tunnel display meant for children in the children’s section. Apparently it was the first available place for the scary creature. But yes — zoos and aquariums are not exclusively for families, and parents should not be douchebags about the childless adults enjoying the exhibits. 🙂

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