Connect with us

Thai Life

Phuket Diving: Knowledge trumps beauty of ignorance



PHUKET: A brilliantly colored mantis shrimp (stomatopoda) pops out of its burrow and scurries towards a broken piece of coral. Its legs spin out below it like the Road Runner – but it’s not that fast, at least its legs aren’t.

We kneel in the sand to watch the biological wonder. It looks almost comical as it arches its head up, prim and proper, with its legs going, going, going and yet so many divers only give this bafflingly gifted creature a cursory glance, before chasing dreams of leopard sharks and manta rays.

With the right dive buddy, dedicating a whole dive to staking out a mantis shrimp’s burrow to get to know it personally is rarely a waste of air. Though many sea creatures are stunning to look at, they often lack an essence that tags them as individuals. A jeweled sea urchin is simply a jeweled sea urchin, as a butterfly fish, is a butterfly fish, is a butterfly fish. It feels as if the understanding of the interaction is one sided – mantis shrimp are very different.

Our mantis shrimp, “Harold”, peeks out from his den, his eyes, each set atop a stalk, like a submarine’s periscope.

The beauty of Harold and his brothers, sisters and cousins is that they are common in Phuket waters, yet there is very little that is common about them.

Armed with the fastest limb strike in the world (80kmh), these tiny creatures can hit with the impact of a bullet, enough force to crack the glass on an aquarium or hammer through a mollusk’s shell (click here for YouTube video). In fact, the strike from their raptorial claw is so quick that it creates a tiny air space behind it, which makes a snapping sound as the water collapse around it.

Even if the shrimp misses its target with its claw or hammer (depending on the sub-species), the shock wave from the collapsing bubble can be enough to kill or stun its prey.

To complement the quickest punches in the world, this little invertebrate, also known as a “thumb splitters” for painfully obvious reasons, have the most complex eyes in the animal kingdom. So as we lean in for a better look, we’re also getting eyed up, and pretty hard too.

Here we are blowing bubbles and watching Harold with only three kinds of light receptors in each of our eyes, while Harold is seeing the world in vastly more detail with ten light receptors, allowing him to see into the infrared and ultraviolet range.

What’s more stunning than the simple complexity of a mantis shrimp’s eye, is what’s going on behind it – mantis shrimp are the only invertebrates that can recognize individuals of their own species and remember the outcome of fights against rivals.

In fact, there is a rumor of a diver in Phuket who gained the trust of one such individual, though the diver supposedly lost a fingernail in the process. By bringing a tiny piece of fish to the same thumb splitter every time he dove at a particular site, the diver was able to establish a relationship.

So if a man ever bets you a bottle of top-shelf whiskey that he can get a mantis shrimp to eat out of his bare hand, it’s best to believe him – unless you’re okay scurrying for your wallet.

— Isaac Stone Simonelli


Get more from The Thaiger

Join the conversation and have your say on Thailand news published on The Thaiger.

Thaiger Talk is our new Thaiger Community where you can join the discussion on everything happening in Thailand right now.

Please note that articles are not posted to the forum instantly and can take up to 20 min before being visible. Click for more information and the Thaiger Talk Guidelines.

Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Follow Thaiger by email:

Environment21 mins ago

PM warns Thailand to brace itself for potential flooding

Travel54 mins ago

Watch Koh Samui’s magical sunset from these sunset bars

Thailand1 hour ago

Local hero predicts building collapse, saves countless lives in eastern Thailand

Sponsored6 hours ago

Enjoy a splashing time and immerse yourself in Thai Mythology in Andamanda Phuket

Phuket1 hour ago

9 year old boy kills a 7 year old girl with a police pistol in Phuket

Press Room2 hours ago

Southeast Asia’s sauciest tech event, Techsauce Global Summit to return to Bangkok in physical form

Thailand2 hours ago

Thailand & China fighter jets take off on Falcon Strike drills

Join the conversation on the Thaiger Talk forums today!
Pattaya2 hours ago

Fans flock to free entry Pattaya Music Festival held every weekend of August

Road deaths3 hours ago

Innocent woman killed after high-speed race near Bangkok

Crime4 hours ago

Police raid Chinese porn studio in Chon Buri, 4 arrested

Bangkok5 hours ago

Blaze at US office near German Embassy in Bangkok

Expats5 hours ago

Aussie man plunges to death from 17th floor of Pattaya hotel

Thailand5 hours ago

More details emerge on Deadly Fire in NightClub | GMT

Chon Buri19 hours ago

Faulty wiring, poor construction, unsafe materials in Mountain B fire

Chon Buri19 hours ago

Mountain B: Owner out on bail, Bangkok club inspection, viral moment

Central Thailand21 hours ago

Thai woman murders her abusive boyfriend in front of a monk

Thailand11 months ago

Morning Top Stories Thailand | Police to end protests, Human Trafficking | September 14

Thailand1 year ago

Thailand News Today | Thai Airways in rehab, All go for Songkran | March 4

Tourism1 year ago

Phuket’s nightlife. Yes, bars and clubs are still open | VIDEO

Phuket1 year ago

Thailand News Today | Covid passport talks, Thai Airways heads to court | March 2

Tourism1 year ago

Phuket Thai food treats you need to try | VIDEO

Thailand1 year ago

Thailand News Today | Bars, pubs and restaurants ‘sort of’ back to normal | Feb 23

Tourism1 year ago

In search of Cat & Dog Cafés in Phuket Town | VIDEO

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Gambling crackdown, Seafood market to reopen, Vlogger challenge | Jan 21

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Covid testing for visas, Business impact, Vaccine approval | January 19

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Weekend Bangkok bombs, Thailand fires, Covid update | January 18

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Stray car on runway, Indonesian quake, 300 baht tourist fee | January 15

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Governor off respirator, sex-trafficking arrest, condo prices falling | January 14

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Chinese vaccine, Thailand ‘drug hub’, Covid update | January 13

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Bangkok may ease restrictions, Phuket bar curfew, Vaccine roll out | January 12

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Covid latest, Cockfights closed down, Bryde’s Whale beached | January 11