Todd Krebs, Above and Below Photo
First of all, if you want to know about a beautiful creature that is also terrifying, look no further than this one. I won't rehash what The Oatmeal already said (see the link above), but I will add a couple of things.
The "death sticks" that The Oatmeal refers to are either spears or hammers. So, there are spearers, who use spears at the front of their face to stab prey. There are also smashers, who smash their prey with tremendous force. It's crazy. No, I have never seen a Mantis Shrimp do this in real life, although I have seen Mantis Shrimp on more than one occasion.
The Mantis Shrimp depicted by The Oatmeal is a Peacock Mantis Shrimp, found in the Indo-Pacific, and is the one that we observed in Indonesia on several occasions. We would see one, and then we'd gesture to each other something to the effect of "get away from that." Todd was especially cautious because a Mantis Shrimp can easily break dome on his camera housing, causing thousands of dollars in damage and rendering his camera useless for the rest of the trip.
We also saw a HUGE Mantis Shrimp during a safety stop in Bali. This guy was seriously the size of my arm from my elbow to wrist, if not bigger. Usually Mantis Shrimps are down in holes, only poking their faces out here and there, but this guy was out and about, looking all menacing because he knew he was a killer and dangerous.
There are also Mantis Shrimps in the Caribbean, specifically the Ciliated Mantis Shrimp. These tend to be smaller and not as pretty as the ones in the Pacific (which is generally true of all Caribbean creatures, and is why divers travel to the Indo-Pacific like it's Mecca). I don't mind getting close to Caribbean Mantis Shrimps, although they are still pretty brave. I've been known to coax them out of their holes by taunting them with my metal pointer that I carry with me on dives. You can hear them snapping at the metal pretty easily underwater. I would never do this with an Indo-Pacific Mantis, who would probably go on a killing spree as a result.
You also find Snapping Shrimp in the Caribbean, which are pretty tiny relative to the Mantis, but are no less fierce. I've been "snapped" by them before. They basic are found in holes (often near cleaning stations, which is what gets me into trouble), and will use their little claws to SNAP at you if you get your finger in there. You can hear this underwater, too, and it hurts, trust me. They are not friendly, and I have never successfully gotten one out of its hole.
Side Note: Todd and I often play the game of "which are you more afraid of?" and then name two fish species. Are you more afraid of a Great White Shark or a Blue Ring Octopus? Are you more afraid of an Irukandji Jellyfish or a Mantis Shrimp? Of the fish I've actually seen, (I've never seen a Blue Ring, Irukandji or Great White, for example), the most frightening is not the Mantis Shrimp, but the Titan Triggerfish. I'm not kidding, a Titan Triggerfish will seriously mess you up. Maybe The Oatmeal should learn about them. They were nesting in Indonesia and I was terrified of them. Not so much the Mantis, although I did avoid them.
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