Snapping Shrimp

The snapping shrimp is capable of producing light and sound by snapping its claw at an immense speed.

The snapping shrimp is characterised by it’s asymmetric claw, with one claw being significantly larger than the other and often up to have the length of the shrimps entire body. This powerful claw is needed to stun prey and find a mate and so if the claw is lost, so is the shrimp. Luckily the snapping shrimp has adapted to regenerate lost limb, with the original small claw increasing in size to become the new dominant limb.

It’s a common misconception that whales make the loudest sound in the ocean, but a school of Alpheidae can giving even the sperm whale a run for its money. The sound produced by a collection of the snapping shrimp, know as the ‘shrimp layer’, is the only noise loud enough to white-out a submarine’s sonar, much to the dismay of those operating the subs headphones. Hearing above it from below can only be achieved by raiding a mast up through it, and vice versa.

When adjusting for the fact that sound travels five times faster in water, the noise of the collective shrimp amounts to a headache inducing 160 decibels (which is considerably louder than a jet taking off or the human threshold for pain). It has been compared to everybody in the world frying bacon at the same time. Snapping shrimps are the guilty species and cause the sound by snapping their single oversized claw. Sounds like a fairly bland explanation, until you go into the details.

Videos shot at 40,000 frames per second have shown the sound occurs 700 microseconds after the claw is shut. The sound is actually created by bubbles bursting as a result of the claw shutting. This is due to an effect known as cavitation, a phenomenon that occurs when the claw shuts at such a speed it sends out a jet of water traveling at 62mph. This is fast enough to produce expanding bubbles of water vapour and as the water slows down, normal pressure is restored and the bubbles collapse creating an intense heat reaching up to 20,000 degrees Celsius. This causes a loud pop and light in a rare phenomenon called sonoluminescence. This nifty trick is used to stun prey, communicate and find mates- after all, who wouldn’t be impressed?

Want to find out about the worlds smallest deadly jellyfish? Click here.

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