From Telson to Attack in Mantis Shrimp: Bridging Biomechanics and Behavior in Crustacean Contests

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Integrative and Comparative Biology







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Synopsis In the spirit of this symposium on the physical mechanisms of behavior, we review mantis shrimp ritualized fighting, from the telson to the attack, as an inspiring example of how the integration of biomechanics and behavioral research can yield a penetrating narrative for how animals accomplish important activities, including agonistic actions. Resolving conflicts with conspecifics over valuable resources is an essential task for animals, and this takes an unusual form in mantis shrimp due to their powerful raptorial appendages. Decades of field and laboratory research have provided key insights into the natural agonistic interactions of diverse mantis shrimp species, including how they use their raptorial weapons against one another in telson sparring matches over cavities. These insights provided the foundation for functional morphologists, biomechanists, and engineers to work through different levels of organization: from the kinematics of how the appendages move to the elastic mechanisms that power the strike, and down to the structure, composition, and material properties that transmit and protect against high-impact forces. Completing this narrative are studies on the defensive telson and how this structure is biomechanically matched to the weapon and the role it plays in ritualized fighting. The biomechanical understanding of the weapon and defense in mantis shrimp has, in turn, enabled a better understanding of whether mantis shrimp assess one another during contests and encouraged questions of evolutionary drivers on both the arsenal and behavior. Altogether, the body of research focused on mantis shrimp has presented perhaps the most comprehensive understanding of fighting, weapons, and defenses among crustaceans, from morphology and biomechanics to behavior and evolution. While this multi-level analysis of ritualized fighting in mantis shrimp is comprehensive, we implore the need to include additional levels of analysis to obtain a truly holistic understanding of this and other crustacean agonistic interactions. Specifically, both molting and environmental conditions are often missing from the narrative, yet they greatly affect crustacean weapons, defenses, and behavior. Applying this approach more broadly would generate a similarly profound understanding of how crustaceans carry out a variety of important tasks in diverse habitats.


Biological Sciences