Mantis Shrimp vs Pistol Shrimp

Mantis Shrimp vs Pistol Shrimp

Welcome to the battle of the crustaceans! On one side is the mantis shrimp, whose lightning-fast claws sever their prey in seconds! And don’t forget its ultra-powerful vision that detects motion in polarized light underwater. On the other side, we have pistol shrimp, which has earned its name from being able to shoot powerful water streams right from its claws!

Don’t mistake these shrimps for fine-dining grubs because they are some of the most formidable creatures under the sea. This is an in-depth look into mantis shrimp vs pistol shrimp!

Comparing Mantis Shrimp Vs Pistol Shrimp

Below is a comparison chart that lets you know all the major differences between a mantis shrimp and pistol shrimp at a glance!

Mantis ShrimpPistol Shrimp
Scientific NameStomatopoda Alpheidae
Size Length: 4-15 inchesLength: 1.2-2 inches
Lifespan20 yearsOnly four years
AppearanceElongated body with powerful, claw-like appendagesSmaller body with one enlarged claw
Hunting SkillsRapid strike with powerful clawsHigh-velocity water jet from enlarged claw
Capturing PreyCrushes or impales with clawStuns or kills with a water jet
EyesightExceptional vision in polarized lightGreat vision, not as complex
HabitatFound in various marine environmentsMainly coral reefs and seagrass beds
SpeciesOver 450More than 500

Where Do Mantis Shrimps Get Their Name From?

Mantis shrimps get their name from their physical resemblance to praying mantises, an insect known for its front legs used to capture prey. Mantis shrimps have long claws that resemble the mantis’ forelimbs, which they use to strike and catch their prey with great speed and force. The name “mantis shrimp” reflects this similarity in appearance and predatory behavior.

Key Differences Between Mantis Shrimp Vs Pistol Shrimp

What we’ve looked at above is a general overview of some of the major differences between mantis shrimp and pistol shrimp. It’s only fair that we get a little deeper into the differences to truly tell our mantis shrimp from pistol shrimp, and vice versa. 


From the chart above, we can see that mantis shrimps and pistol shrimps display an evidently significant difference in their sizes. The mantis shrimp can grow from a friendly 4 inches to a staggering 15 inches long! You’re probably thinking it isn’t enough, but just picture 13 bottle caps lined up horizontally; that’s how long the mantis shrimp can grow. 

The pistol shrimps remain a friendly size on the other hand, growing at most a mere 2 inches. But don’t be fooled by their tiny size; they’re not one to underestimate, as you’ll find out soon enough.


Mantis shrimp have an elongated body and powerful, raptorial forelegs. They keep them tucked in but ready to launch whenever threatened. Their bodies are vibrant and colorful, and have a range of striking patterns. Their compound eyes are made up of 10,000 photoreceptive units and look a lot like bee eyes.

Pistol shrimps are red and white like most of their kind, and they are characterized by one enlarged claw, which is quite prominent and is the first thing to catch the eye of this crustacean. They see UV, visible, and polarized light and have up to 16 photoreceptors. They are the only animals that recognize circularly polarized light, that is, when wave components in light rotate in a circle. They can also move each eye freely and can gauge depth with one eye.

Breeding Habits

Mantis shrimp are generally solitary creatures, and their breeding behavior varies among species. Some mantis shrimp species engage in complex courtship rituals, where males perform intricate displays to attract females. They fluoresce during mating. Once that is achieved, the female mantis shrimp lays eggs that she attaches to the underside of rocks or other surfaces, protecting them until they hatch. The eggs take anywhere from 9 to 40 days to hatch. 

In contrast, pistol shrimp often form monogamous pairs. This is related to the females’ molting cycle, which is the shedding of exoskeleton. During this, the male shrimps will protect the females. After mating, they excavate burrows in the seabed or coral reefs, where both males and females contribute to digging and maintaining the burrow. The female pistol shrimp lays eggs within the burrow, and both parents guard and care for the eggs until they hatch, which takes around 28 days.

Both mantis shrimps and pistol shrimps can breed year-round. 

Pistol Shrimp
Photo Credit: Rob & Sue Peatling

How They Hunt

This is where mantis shrimp and pistol shrimps deserve all the praise they get, their hunting techniques. Mantis shrimp are opportunistic and ambush hunters using two hunting techniques: spearing and smashing. They also have exceptional eyesight, which they use to hunt in deep waters and polarized light. Spearing mantis shrimp use their sharp and raptorial claws to literally punch at 51 mph. This move stabs the prey and cavitates it. 

Smashing is achieved by using a large club on their front claws that smash the prey so hard, making it impossible for any prey to escape.

Pistol shrimps have one of the coolest hunting techniques of any species. They may lack excellent vision like the mantis shrimp, but their attack method easily makes up for it. Staying true to their name, these opportunistic hunters use their single, enlarged claws to literally load up water, like a pistol would bullets, and shoot a powerful stream of water, blasting at 62 mph of force, instantly stunning or killing its prey. This method of attack is not only strong in force but also sound. When shot, the loud crack of the bubbles reaches a whooping 218 decibels. 

For comparison’s sake, a jet takes off at 25 meters, emanating 150 decibels. The world’s largest mammal, the blue whale’s sirens reach up to 188 decibels, falling significantly short of the 2-inch-long pistol shrimps’ bubble jet. 

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Feeding Preferences

The mantis shrimp’s diet depends on their dual hunting technique. Spearing mantis shrimps will eat softer creatures like worms, fishes, or squid. Smashing mantis shrimps prefer harder feeds, like snails, clams, or other smaller crustaceans.

Pistol shrimp’s diet includes small vertebrates; they may also feast on macroalgae and carrion. Their symbiotic relationship with goby fish helps in terms of diet, where the shrimp will dig out the invertebrates which the goby will eat, leaving behind the residue for the shrimp. Goby will reward this by protecting the shrimp by using its powerful vision.  

Can You Eat Pistol Shrimp?

Yes, you can eat pistol shrimp. However, it is not commonly consumed and is considered a delicacy, particularly in coastal regions. If you want to try pistol shrimp for yourself, research potential dangers and ensure it has been prepared properly.

Mantis Shrimp vs. Pistol Shrimp, Who’s The True Shrimp?

With all that we’ve witnessed in this epic shrimp showdown, you wouldn’t probably expect that one of these fantastic creatures doesn’t really fit the definition of a shrimp at all! Which one is it?

Although the mantis shrimp is called a shrimp, it is not exactly a shrimp. They are part of a group of shelled critters known as stomatopods. Stomatopods were part of other crustaceans that split almost 400 million years ago!

The pistol shrimps are the truer shrimp in this face-off. They are a crustacean in the family of Alpheidae. 

Who Would Win In A Fight Between Mantis Shrimp vs Pistol Shrimp?

Judging by the size comparisons, a mantis shrimp will easily overpower a pistol shrimp. Mantis grows up to 15 inches, and pistol remains at 2 inches. While the pistol shrimp has its coveted water gun, it is still too small to render a mantis shrimp weak. 

Mantis Shrimp
Photo Credit: Chung Kim

Are Mantis Shrimps Dangerous To Humans?

Yes, mantis shrimps can be dangerous to humans. They’re also called “thumb-splitter shrimp”; use your imagination as to why. Their powerful claws can strike at you, cutting or splitting your fingers or hands when you’re handling them. So be careful if you ever find yourself dealing with a mantis shrimp.  


There you have it; the shrimp-off has finally ended! We hope you’ve learned some valuable tidbits about the mantis shrimp and pistol shrimp, from their mantis’ dual hunting strategies to the pistol shrimp’s badass water stun-gun action to catch their prey. These wonderful creatures further prove how incredibly diverse our world is and how much we should appreciate its beauty and ingenuity.


Are Pistol Shrimps Very Powerful?

Yes, as we’ve seen, pistol shrimps are very powerful. Their enlarged claw launches a high-speed water jet that instantly stuns and kills their prey. This stream is so powerful that it generates at 62 mph, and the sound it emits ranges up to 218 decibels!

Can You Eat A Mantis Shrimp?

Yes, mantis shrimp can be eaten and are even a delicacy in some places. They’re popular as a sushi topping and part of various Mediterranean cuisines. It requires careful cleaning, removal of the tough outer shell, and cooking techniques so the meat is tender and flavorful.

How Deep In The Ocean Can Mantis Shrimps Survive?

Mantis shrimps survive in depths of 130 feet in the ocean! They’re mostly found in the Indo-Pacific Ocean, mainly near Japanese and Australian regions. They’re also found in Africa.

Can You Keep A Pistol Shrimp In An Aquarium?

Yes you can! They can be kept in salt-water aquariums. They’re compatible with corals and other fishes if they’re not aggressive. Remember pistol shrimp need a suitable substrate for burrowing, so the aquarium must be large.

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