Mantis Shrimp as an Aquarium Pet. Care Guide

Mantis shrimp

Mantis shrimp are aggressive, burrowing crustaceans that hunt using one of the fastest movements in the natural world. Although Mantis shrimp can be interesting augmentations to certain saltwater tanks, generally, they are viewed as a disturbance by aquarium hobbyists.

These stomatopods can crack the calcified shells of crabs and snails or spear down unsuspecting fish with lighting speed. Their strike makes use of power-amplification mechanisms to move their limbs much faster than is possible by muscles alone.

Nonetheless, if you are interested in keeping Mantis Shrimp as an aquarium pet or want to learn more about these unique creatures, this care guide will tell everything you need to know about them.

Mantis shrimp really do not require much care at all. This is one of the reasons why smaller mantis shrimp are the most popular with aquarium hobbyists. In addition, it is easy to obtain them for relatively low cost in many pet stores. 

Quick Notes about Mantis Shrimp

Name Mantis shrimp
Other Names
Peacock Mantis Shrimp, Thumb splitters, Prawn killers, Sea locusts
Order Stomatopod
Tank size (minimum) 10 gallons (~40 liters)
Keeping Easy
Breeding Easy  
Size 2.5 – 40 cm (1 – 15 Inches)
Optimal Temperature 22 – 26°C  (~72°F – 80°F)
Water type SG = 1.018 – 1.025
Optimal PH 8.0 – 8.5
Optimal KH 8 – 16
Nitrate Less than 20 ppm
Diet Carnivore
Temperament Extremely aggressive
Life span 3 – 6 years
Color Form Vibrant multi-colure – Green, blue, red, orange

Interesting fact: It is quite interesting but the Mantis shrimp is not a shrimp or mantis. They are stomatopods. About 340 million years ago (before the first dinosaurs appeared on the scene), they branched from other members of the class Malacostraca (shrimp, crabs, crayfish, and lobsters).

Their biology is so bizarre that scientists have assigned them the nickname “shrimp from Mars.”

Mantis Shrimp Types – “Smashers” and “Spearers”

All Mantis shrimp species are often divided into ‘Spearers’ or ‘Smashers’, supported the kinds of claws they need and tactics they use to kill the prey.

Mantis shrimp photo by Roy Caldwell
by Roy Caldwell

Spearers

Spearers have spiny appendages (elongated, open dactyls) with barbed tips. They use them to stab soft-bodied prey, like differing types of worms and fish. The range of distances from which the Mantis shrimp usually initiate their strikes is about 1 – 3 cm.

Smashers

Smashers have more developed club-like appendages (highly calcified, massive dactyls) that can bludgeon and smash their hard-shelled prey (like crabs, lobsters, shrimp, snails, etc.) to pieces.

Interesting Facts About Mantis Shrimp

For decades, the amazing hunting abilities of Mantis shrimp have attracted the attention of scientists. While measuring only a few inches long, mantis shrimp can throw the fastest punch of any animal with a peak impact force equivalent to a tiger’s bite.

Smashers can punch at the same velocity as a .22 caliber (with strikes that can reach speeds of 14–23 m s−1).

Smasher mantis shrimp have two raptorial appendages (called ‘dactyl clubs’) on the front of its body that it uses to punch its prey. These fists are spring-loaded, ready to accelerate from their body at over 50 mph, delivering a force of over 1,500 newtons, enough to smash through crabs and clamshells. That’s 2.5k times the force of the Mantis shrimps owns weight, if a people could do this they’d be ready to punch through steel.

Their punch is so fast it leads to ‘cavitation’ bubbles. This is an excellent heated bubble and a little “flash of sunshine”, which for split seconds also generates temperate enough to boil the water in that small area. When the bubbles collapse they cause an intense shockwave which is sort of a double punch and may stun, dismember or kill prey instantly – if the mantis shrimp misses the target.

Origins, Natural Habitat of the Mantis Shrimp

Mantis shrimp are usually found in shallow subtropical or tropical waters, with some types or species occasionally found in sub-Antarctic waters. They are found along shores, usually living in an abandoned burrow to maneuver in and bent capture prey when spotted. 

Description of the Mantis Shrimp

As I have already said earlier, Mantis shrimp is not a shrimp in the least but gets its name because it resembles a Praying Mantis and a shrimp at the same time. They have a second pair of prey-catching arms, just like the large grasping forelimbs of the praying Mantid insect, which captures prey.

Depending on the species, their size can range from 1 to 15 inches (2.5 – 40 cm) long. They also are available for a spread of various colors.

Mantis shrimps vision specterEyes of mantis shrimp are located on the long stalks which will move independently. Each eye has a ‘trinocular vision’, which suggests it can gauge depth and distance on its own by that specialize in objects with three separate regions.

Scientists believe that Mantis shrimp possess the foremost complex eyes within the Animalia kingdom and have the foremost complex sensory system ever discovered.

They can see a special spiraling sort of light called circularly polarised light that’s not been documented in the other animals. They even have a structure in their eyes that’s almost like technology found in DVD players, only far more advanced.

Different types of mantis shrimp have between 12 to 16 different color photoreceptors for color analysis in their retinas.  This is at least 4 times more than humans have.

While they need significantly more color photoreceptors, research suggests they’re worse at differentiating color than humans. However, scientists believe this is often because their eyes are operating at a special level, functioning more sort of a satellite.

It’s believed mantis shrimp can take all visual information into their brains immediately without having to process it, allowing them to react instantly to the environment.

Lifespan of Mantis Shrimp

There are records that large Mantis shrimp lived for over 20 years. However, in aquariums, hobbyists usually keep small species (3 – 5 inches or 7 – 12 cm) that usually do no live more than 2 – 5 years.

Some more interesting facts about Mantis Shrimp

Beneath their hard-coated clubs, Mantis shrimp have special layers of elastic polysaccharide chitin, which acts as a shock absorber. Researchers have even studied their cell structure for advanced body armor for combat troops, car frames and aircraft panels.

Mantis shrimp is one of the best sprinters in the aquatic world. Their acceleration can reach 30 body lengths per second. Considering that humans move at top speeds of 3–4 body lengths per second! Which, to scale, would be like a person running 130 miles (or 210 km) per hour.

Behavior of the Mantis Shrimp

Mantish shrimp in the cavityThe Mantis shrimp is a fierce predator within any places they inhabit, whether it is an aquarium or in the wild. Actually, I do not think that I have stressed it enough. Let me rephrase it. The Mantis shrimp is a ruthless, unstoppable, and smart hunting machine. Now, this description is more appropriate.

Their hunting behavior will depend on the species you have. For example, ʻSpearersʼ Mantis shrimp are pure ambush predators. They scan the environment from a concealed position and then rapidly execute a surprise attack. They usually hide in sandy burrows and capture evasive prey, whereas ‘Smashers’ Mantis shrimp can also search for prey away from their burrows. Unlike many other ambush predators, ‘Smashers’ Mantis shrimp are very persistent. If their attack failed, they will often pursue the prey until they catch it.

Interesting facts: According to the study, small Mantis shrimp species (like Alachosquilla vicina – 1 inch or 2.5 cm long) can attack several times faster compared to large ones (like Lysiosquillina maculate – 5 – 7 inches or 13 – 17 cm).

The mantis shrimp spends most of its life living in its burrow or cavity. They are very secretive and solitary sea animals. However, some species of Mantis shrimp can mate with a partner, and stick together for his or her entire life.

They are also extremely intelligent and capable of learning. Lots of aquarists say that their Mantis shrimp started recognizing them as the “Bringer of Food” and were not afraid to come out.

Feeding Mantis Shrimp

Mantis shrimp are very quick and deadly predators, which feed on any aquatic creature they can catch.

Depending upon the species, mantis shrimp catch their food using either of two distinct methods. ʻSpearersʼ Mantis shrimp prefer evasive prey (like fish or shrimp), whereas ‘Smashers’ often choose hard-shelled, sedentary prey (crabs, lobsters, shrimp, snails, clams, mussels, etc.). They will smash and break their prey with their fierce appendages to retrieve the soft tissue.

Mantis shrimp are often quite choosy when it involves feeding – sometimes killing a live food item, seemingly as territorial defense, but not consuming it. Most will, however, suits unfamiliar foods over time.

This takes time and experimentation. Actually, it’s quite comical to ascertain them grab an unfamiliar food, retreat into their den, then contemptuously toss it out as unpalatable! Tong-feeding will allow you to supply them with a more varied diet than if you relied solely upon live food.

Frozen mussels, prawns, scallops, clams, squid, crab, and various fishes are all readily accepted. Human markets and bait stores  are other excellent sources of unique food items (different shrimp, fish, snail and abalone species, for example) – including this  in your pet’s  diet will increase the healthiness.

WARNING: Use forceps with Mantis shrimp tank. Do not use your fingers as serious injury can result! This is not a joke. They hit hard enough to break the bones. While ʻSpearersʼ can cut your skin.

Keeping and Housing Mantis Shrimp

Mantish shrimp sideMantis shrimp are usually straight forward and very easy to care for. However, for optimal results, here are some handy tips that you should follow in order to keep them in an aquarium.
Note: Also, I have made a list of the most popular Mantis shrimp species that aquarists usually keep in their tanks. I used information from Berkeley University of California, so all credits go to them.

Mantis shrimp species Size (up to) Type Temperature Suitability for Aquarium
Alachosquilla vicina

 

 

3.2 cm

 

Spearer 22–28° C Fair, rarely leaves burrow, non-interactive.

Hunts day and night from burrow entrance, adults live in monogamous pairs.

Acanthosquilla derijardi

 

7.5 cm Smasher 22–28° C Hardy, but secretive. Very long lived and slow growing. Secretive in burrow.
Alima pacifica 4 cm Spearer 22–28° C Fair. Adults don’t live long in captivity.
Busquilla plantei 7 cm Spearer 22–28° C Fair. Seems sensitive to water parameters.
Chorisquilla hystrix 2.8 cm Smasher 22–28° C Good, but rarely comes out of its cavity.
Chorisquilla excavata 2.5 cm Smasher 22–27° C Reclusive, remaining in cavity at entrance, but hardy.

Diurnal, darts out of cavity to seize small prey.

Chorisquilla tweediei 3 cm Smasher 22–28° C Good, but rarely leaves its cavity.
Cloridopsis dubia

 

15 cm Spearer 20–27° C Good. Seems tolerant to fluctuating water parameters.
Coronis scolopendra 7 cm Spearer 21–28° C Hardy, but reclusive.
Echinosquilla guerinii

 

8 cm Smasher 22–28° C  Good. Needs stable water parameters; not active but usually can be seen looking out of cavity entrance.
Fallosquilla fallax

 

6 cm Spearer 22–27° C Somewhat delicate; difficult to provide adequate substrate for it to burrow.
Gonodactylellus annularis 2.2 cm Smasher 22–28° C Hardy, but secretive. Long lived and slow growing.
Gonodactylellus espinosus 4 cm Smasher 22–28° C Reasonably hardy; does best with moderate current.
Gonodactylaceus falcatus

 

8 cm Smasher 22–28° C Good; not particularly hardy, not very interactive.
Gonodactylaceus glabrous 8 cm Smasher 22–28° C Excellent; hardy, moderately interactive.
Gonodactylaceus graphurus 9 cm Smasher 21–28° C Excellent. It can tolerate some fluctuation in water parameters.
Gonodactylaceus ternatensis 12 cm Smasher 22–29° C Good. However, it will break coral and requires stable water parameters.
Gonodactylellus affinis 3.5 cm Smasher 23–28° C Good; rarely leaves cavity.
Gonodactylellus caldwelli 7 cm Smasher 23–28° C Good; rarely leaves cavity.
Gonodactylellus viridis 5.5 cm Smasher 22–29° C Excellent; hardy and active.
Gonodactylus childi 4 cm Smasher 22–29° C Good; hardy, but not interactive; rarely leaves cavity.
Gonodactylus chiragra

 

10 cm Smasher 22–29° C Good; hardy; not very interactive; largest animals can chip glass tank.
Gonodactylus platysoma 9 cm Smasher 22–28° C Good; not very interactive, but hardy.
Haptosquilla banggai 3.5 cm Smasher 22–28° C Hardy.
Haptosquilla glyptocercus 4.5 cm Smasher 22–29° C Excellent; hardy, but rarely leaves cavity; lives 5 years or more in captivity.
Haptosquilla hamifera 2.9 cm Smasher 23–28° C Good; remains in cavity, not interactive.
Haptosquilla stoliura 6.5 cm Smasher 22–28° C Good; very hardy, not interactive.
Haptosquilla trispinosa 4.3 cm Smasher 22–29° C  Good; hardy; rarely leaves cavity.
Hemisquilla californiensis 32 cm smasher  16–18° C Poor; requires burrow, prone to shell disease, not interactive.
Lysiosquillina glabriuscula 22 cm Spearer 22–28° C Hardy.
Lysiosquillina lisa

 

32 cm Spearer 22–28° C Hardy.
Lysiosquillina maculata

 

40 cm Spearer 22–28° C It will excavate burrow in deep sand beds and grow rapidly; hardy.
Neogonodactylus bredini

 

6 cm Smasher 22–29° C Excellent; very hardy; active.
Neogonodactylus curacaoensis 7 cm Smasher 23–28° C  Somewhat difficult; shy; requires very stable, good water parameters.
Neogonodactylus oerstedii 7 cm Smasher 22–29° C Excellent; hardy and active.
Neogonodactylus wennerae 8 cm Smasher 21–29° C Excellent; hardy and active.
Odontodactylus brevirostris 7 cm Smasher 23–28° C Fair; intolerant of changing parameters or low oxygen; very interactive and alert.
Odontodactylus cultrifer 1.2 cm Smasher 22–28° C Fair; seems sensitive to water parameters.
Odontodactylus havanensis 7 cm Smasher 23–28° C Fair; cannot tolerate changing parameters or low oxygen; active and interactive.
Odontodactylus japonicus 17 cm Smasher 22–28° C Excellent; largest animals can break or chip glass; they dig constantly and will rearrange landscaping; active swimmers that can jump.
Odontodactylus latirostris 8 cm Smasher 20–28° C Good. However, it does not tolerate low oxygen or high ammonia. Active and interactive.
Odontodactylus scyllarus

 

18 cm Smasher 22–28° C Excellent. Largest animals can break or chip glass. Large adults prone to develop shell disease. Active and interactive.
Oratosquilla oratoria 18 cm Spearer 20–28° C Reasonably hardy. Do best if allowed to burrow.
Protosquilla folini

 

2.8 cm Smasher 22–27° C Reclusive, remaining in cavity at entrance, but hardy.
Pseudosquilla ciliata

 

9.5 cm Spearer 21–28° C Excellent, hardy and active; will shift sand that can bury corals.
Pseudosquillana richeri 8.7 cm Spearer 22–28° C Hardy, but reclusive and timid; easily spooked.
Pseudosquillisma guttata 3.5 cm Spearer 22–28° C Delicate.
Pseudosquillopsis marmorata

 

15.5 cm Spearer 14–17° C Good, but needs refrigerated aquarium; nocturnal, rarely seen out of its burrow even at night.
Pullosquilla thomassini

 

2 cm Spearer 22–28° C Hardy; live up to 3 years in captivity.
Raoulserenea hieroglyphica 8.3 cm Spearer 22–28° C Not very hardy.
Raoulserenea komaii 10 cm Spearer 22–28° C Good and active.
Raoulserenea ornata 4 cm Spearer 22–28° C Delicate.
Raoulserenea oxyrhyncha 8.8 cm Spearer 22–28° C Delicate.
Squilla empusa

 

18 cm Spearer 18–26° C Difficult to keep due to burrow requirements; temperature. Nocturnal
Squilla rugosa

 

12.5 cm Spearer 22–28° C Good; seems tolerant of varying water parameters
Taku spinosocarinatus

 

2.4 cm Smasher 22–28° C Hardy, but reclusive nature and very small size make it difficult to observe or even find
Tetrasquilla mccullochae

 

7 cm Spearer 21–28° C Hardy if provided sand in which to construct a burrow

Aquarium Type

Avoid keeping ‘Smasher’ Mantis shrimp in a glass aquarium. Even small individuals can chip the glass. While big ones can break it. This isn’t in the least common, but watch them at feeding time. In addition, there are also multiple reports that once they encounter an obstacle they want to maneuver, they often attempt to punch their answers. Some aquarists saw them attacking their reflection through the glass.

Note: Acrylic tanks is your choice if you are going for a large species.

Tank Size

Although water quality is easier to manage in large aquariums, small Mantis shrimp (1 – 3 inches or 2.5 – 7 cm) do quite well in 10-gallon (~40 liters) aquariums. Individuals longer than 8 inches (20 cm) will require at least 20 gallons tank (80 liters).

Note: More important than tank size is making sure your tank is completely cycled before introducing any Mantis shrimp.

Water Parameters

Mantis shrimp are hardy and difficult to kill. They are not picky about tank water parameters and easy to care for. Most Mantis shrimp species thrive at temperatures of 72 to 80 F (22 – 26 C), and salinities of 1.018 to 1.025. 

Substrate and Decorations

Mantis shrimp are ambush predators and need places to hide. In general, a sandy substrate at the bottom of the tank is preferable. If you are planning to keep a ‘Spearer’ Mantis shrimp, the sand becomes mandatory. Sand bed should be at least 1.5 times as deep as the animal is long.

If you are planning to keep a ‘Smasher’ Mantis shrimp, to mimic their natural habitat you will also need to add some gravel or rocks and PVC pipes. This type prefers to hide in tube-shaped cavities. Some species often even close their cavity at night. This will help your Mantis shrimp to feel safe and stress-free in the tank. Despite their fearless attitude, Mantis shrimp will languish and die if forced to stay within the open.

Keep in mind that aquascaping often does not work with Mantis shrimp. They are very strong and can push, drag, dig and rearrange everything in your reef tank. Mantis shrimp move incredibly large amounts of sand and gravel from one place to another and sometimes manage to make quite stable burrows of their own.

Filtration and Lighting

It will be great to set an aquarium light timer to mimic their natural cycle. Filtration is often quite simple because they do not require anything special. Just pick up whatever suits your budget.

Note: Although Mantis shrimp are reasonably hardy as concerns water quality but are, like many aquatic invertebrates, quite sensitive to air-borne chemicals. Fumes from cleaning products, paints, floor waxes and such could be introduced into even covered aquariums and can be toxic to Mantis shrimp. So be careful where you are going to place the tank.

Important: If you planning to keep Mantis Shrimp as a pet, regardless of their hardiness, it will be better to  acclimate them (read more about it). 

Basic Tank Equipment (links to check the price on Amazon)

Mating and Communicating Mantis Shrimp

Mantis shrimp descriptionWhen an argument comes to devastating blows, a disagreement can be fatal. Killing and maiming members of your own species is not a good survival tactic for a population.

That is why Mantis shrimp species have evolved complex means of communication, often involving body posture, chemical and visual cues, and posturing and ritualized displays.

Most mantis shrimp are territorials and defend their dwelling space. However, even when they spar, they nonlethally tap each other on the hard shells on their back. It lets them assess who is the fitter contestant. In cases none of the opponents is willing to retreat, they try to hit the opponents telson, which is not lethal.

Breeding Mantis Shrimp

Mantis shrimp eggsAfter mating, the female Mantis shrimp carries fertilized eggs beneath her body for 5 – 6 weeks. After hatching, the babies start immediately hunting as the adults do. At this stage, they require a lot of protein to grow.

It takes around 50 – 70 days for them to reach maturity and start reproducing their own offspring.

Mantis Shrimp and Suitable Tankmates

So, can you keep Mantis shrimp with small fish, crabs, snails, shrimp, etc? The short answer is – yes, but only as a food.

Mantis shrimp earn a bad reputation but they are fascinating creatures for a species-only aquarium. They will eat absolutely anything they can catch (Spearer Mantis shrimp) or destroy (Smasher Mantis shrimp).

At the same time, they are very smart creatures and will not attack anything that is too big for them… yet. 

Mantis Shrimp – Uninvited Guest in the Tank

Mantis shrimp can be moved to the aquarium inadvertently through live stone and, when set up. These hitchhikers are usually very resilient and can survive unnoticed for a long time. Therefore, in most cases, the first time people find out about them when the population of the fish, shrimp, crabs, snails colony starts decreasing without any obvious reason. 

How to Remove Mantis Shrimp from the Tank

There are two ways to remove Mantis shrimp from the tank.

1. DIY Trap

A simple bottle trap baited with krill or other meaty food works effectively on Mantis shrimp. The construction is pretty simple. Cut the top off the plastic bottle at the widest part of the bottle. Invert the top part in the bottom half upside down. Make a few holes on opposite sides of the bottom part of the bottle. Fix it all with a rubber band (put it across both ends). DIY Mantis shrimp trap is ready.

Note: Do not expect to catch it in one night. It can take you from a few days to up to a couple weeks straight before the mantis goes in.

2. Freshwater

This method works only if you know where Mantis shrimp is hiding. For example:

– Coax it out by squirting freshwater into the hole that it is in and when he comes out – catch it.
– Take the whole rock out and put it into fresh water until it swims out. 

Handling a Mantis Shrimp

I need to repeat, that Mantis shrimp strike out viciously with their second pair of appendages when threatened, and may cause severe injuries requiring stitches, (divers and shrimpers call them “Thumb splitters”). They even have a robust feeding and burrow defense response. They can attack fingers moved in their vicinity.

Always use tongs or another similar tool when working within the tank, and use a net if handling is important.

In Conclusion

Mantis shrimp have gained notoriety for being wild predators. To guarantee your tank doesn’t get cleared out by one of these animals, early identification and evacuation are basic. Only by doing so, you can protect your fish, crabs, shrimp, and snails from these ruthless assassins.

However, some aquarists keep these animals intentionally. Aside from their aggressiveness, Mantis shrimp are also very beautiful, smart and easy to care creatures.

Mantis shrimp are available for purchase from most aquarium supply stores and should be maintained in a cycled saltwater acrylic tank with aeration, filtration, and feeding every other day with frozen and/or live bait (e.g., snails, small crabs).

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