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CRITTER: Aloalo the most ferocious creature in the sea

While scuba diving at 60 feet deep in Kaua‘i, I saw my first large tiger shark underwater close up. I have to admit that I was a bit nervous as the shark was twice my length and as big around as a large garbage can with a huge mouth full of sharp teeth.

What made me feel comfortable is my metal and glass underwater movie camera I was holding, as that works well to protect yourself if a shark decides to get too close and many divers worldwide have used their cameras to thrust into the mouth of large eels or seals that have tried to bite them.

But on one dive in the Philippines, I did get attacked while diving and used my camera as a shield but the attacker broke the thick glass in the front of the housing! I did not get attacked by a shark, I got attacked by a shrimp.

Aloalo the mantis shrimp is the most ferocious creature in the sea and it is only a foot long. They have powerful front pinchers that are modified into spears that are caulked under their body by a powerful spring-like appendage.

When a crab walks in front of them, they release their legs and impale the crab with their spear or simply knock the crab out by breaking its shell in half. The mantis shrimp has the most powerful punch for its size known on earth and it has the same power as a .22-caliber bullet fired out of a gun. Their punch is so powerful it can easily break the glass wall of an aquarium or even the thick glass on an underwater camera housing.

The other amazing thing about these large shrimps is their eyes are mounted up on stalks and can see 360 degrees. Each eye is independent and can even see UV and infrared light. This allows the shrimp to see its prey even in total darkness and track its every movement as good as the most high tech military submarine.

If aloalo was as big as a shark it would be way too dangerous to even get in the water with. I have dove with thousands of big sharks, including great whites, and I give more space to this small shrimp than a 6-foot moray eel or 10-foot shark. After getting attacked by a vicious shrimp that just about ruined my $5,000 underwater camera, I bought a new videocam that has a telephoto lens so I can shoot video of aloalo and stay far enough away from its deadly spears.

In Hawai‘i, the large mantis shrimp is more of a drab gray color and usually lives in holes in the sand so they are rarely seen. But in the Philippines the same shrimp is brightly colored and is often found crawling around usually at night in search of food. You can see the beautiful peacock mantis shrimp in action in my Philippine movie I shot on Apo Island up on my webpage at www.underwater2web.com.

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Terry Lilley is a marine biologist living in Hanalei Kaua‘i and co-founder of Reef Guardians Hawai‘i, a nonprofit on a mission to provide education and resources to protect the coral reef. To donate to Reef Guardians Hawaii go to www.reefguardianshawaii.org.
Source: The Garden Island

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