The Deadly Power of the Pistol Shrimp

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key point

  • Pistol shrimp are said to fire "bullets" as hot as the surface of the sun!
  • The claw strike of a pistol shrimp is louder than a pistol.
  • The sound of the pistol shrimp's claws alone is enough to stun nearby animals!

boom. boom. boom.

The pistol shrimp cocks its distinctive claws back and repeatedly "fires" at nearby prey. Each time its claw snaps off, the bubbles shoot forward and generate almost as much heat as the surface of the sun in a short time !

Each paw makes an incredible sound, reaching 218 decibels, which is loud enough to render nearby animals unconscious.

The pistol shrimp is one of the most evolved unique predators in nature. However, even with its unique snapping claws, it must often rely on a trusted companion to survive.

To learn more about this animal and see how loud 218 decibels can be , read on!

5 Incredible Pistol Shrimp Facts!

  • Almost as hot as the surface of the sun: the pistol shrimp's claws "shoot" tiny air bubbles, generating an astonishing amount of energy. In fact, they have been reported to reach temperatures of nearly 4,800 degrees Celsius! That's just shy of the Sun's surface temperature of 5,600 degrees Celsius. However, while this temperature spike is extreme , it is also limited to a very small area.
  • Pistol shrimp can regenerate their claws: The loud snapping noises that pistol shrimp make is their main means of hunting prey, but what would happen if they lost their claws? Surprisingly, when pistol shrimp lose their snapping claws, their smaller claws grow larger to replace them. The missing claw regenerates into a smaller claw, effectively "switching" which side their oversized snapping claw is on!
  • Nature's Jackhammer : Some pistol shrimp species use the force of snapping off their claws to carve into rock walls and build shelters.
  • 'Naturally Born Celebrity' : Pistol Shrimp recently appeared on Netflix's Project Power . The film's protagonist — played by Jamie Foxx — has inherited the powers of the Pistol Shrimp. Netflix reports that the film has been streamed more than 75 million times, and its success has led to growing interest in the pistol shrimp.
  • 218 decibels: The air bubbles produced by pistol shrimp can reach up to 218 decibels. How loud is that sound? The decibel rises exponentially. This means that rock music at 120 decibels is a million times louder than a conversation at 60 decibels. A pistol shrimp emits 218 decibels louder than a fighter jet takes off! The picture below demonstrates how real the pistol shrimp snaps are!
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A pistol shrimp decibel map shows the sounds a pistol shrimp claw makes when attacking prey
The Pistol Shrimp attack is so loud it's almost off the charts

Pistol Shrimp Appearance

Pistol shrimp (also known as rattles) are a type of shrimp that lives primarily in tropical waters and has distinctive oversized claws.

The more than 500 species of pistol shrimp differ slightly in appearance and location, but share the boxing-glove-like claws of another, smaller shrimp.

These tiny creatures are harmless to humans and we are not affected by their claws. However, pistol shrimp are capable of producing incredible heat and sound, which can injure their predators. These small, mighty shrimp are about two inches long and can be heard on a quiet boat if you listen carefully.

While it looks like the pistol shrimp has evolved stronger claws for hunting and fighting, it's actually designed for these things, but works in a very specific way. By closing their claws, pistol shrimp are able to stun their prey before it can be safely killed and eaten.

pistol shrimp
By closing their stronger claws, the pistol shrimp is able to stun its prey before it is eaten.

©Matthew R McClure/Shutterstock.com

How Pistol Shrimp Claws Work

The claws of the pistol shrimp snap together, creating a stream of water that travels toward prey at about 71 mph (105 feet per second). Once burst, though, the bubbles' deafening crackle tops out at 218 decibels. it is also:

  • The luminous time is one billionth of a second.
  • In a fraction of a second, the temperature in the bubble soared to nearly 4,800 degrees Celsius (an extraordinary result for a two-centimeter-long animal closing its claws!)
  • It can also instantly stun small fish and crabs.

Now, the first question you're probably asking yourself is "How can a tiny creature produce temperatures nearly as hot as the surface of the sun and a noise louder than a pistol shot?"

The answer comes from the unique structure of the pistol shrimp's biting claws.

When the pistol shrimp open their claws, water fills a "socket". The other half of the claw is a plunger that closes quickly and sprays water, which escapes from a small groove at a very high velocity.

What happens next is a phenomenon called cavitation bubbles. The pressure dropped precipitously, evaporating local water. As the pressure plummets, the tiny bubbles grow larger, and when the pressure returns to normal, they burst suddenly with enormous energy.

Think of it like water being ripped apart!

The moment the bubble burst, a flash of light appeared for just 10 nanoseconds, with temperatures as high as 4,800 degrees Celsius and an incredible noise. The shock wave from cavitation can stun (or even kill) prey in its path.

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Pistol shrimp will repeatedly point their claws at their prey (which eat crabs, other shrimp, small fish, and other opportunistic food), cock their claws back and fire again and again.

After stunning the prey, the pistol shrimp uses its smaller claws to drag the prey back to the nest.

218 decibels: How loud is a pistol shrimp?

Pistol shrimp also use their large claws to battle rivals to see who can make the loudest explosion. The sound frequency of their claws has reached about 218 decibels (swarms of pistol shrimp are said to sound like very hissing fat to divers).

Pistol shrimp near yellow coral.
Pistol shrimp use their large claws to fight with their opponents, and the sound frequency has reached about 218 decibels.

©Gerald Robert Fischer/Shutterstock.com

How loud is that?

  • A soft whisper of about 30 decibels is heard.
  • The volume of normal conversation is 60 decibels.
  • Loud lawnmowers and hair dryers can generate around 90 decibels of noise.
  • Most concerts (don't forget to bring earplugs!) will not exceed 110 decibels.
  • The loudest stadium ever recorded was during a Kansas City Chiefs game at Arrowhead Stadium, where it reached 142.2 decibels.
  • Fighter jets take off, fireworks, gunshots, and emergency sirens rarely make 150 decibels.
  • However, the Pistol Shrimp pops its bubbles at a whopping 218 decibels!

You can see the comparison in the table below. If you're wondering if any animal can beat a pistol shrimp's 218 decibels, a sperm whale's click has been measured as high as 230 decibels!

Tiger Pistol Shrimps and Gobies

The pistol shrimp, whose claws shoot air bubbles to stun its prey, might be considered the solitary shooter of the ocean floor, but it often relies on mutualistic relationships with other species to survive.

Probably the most famous example is the Tiger Pistol Shrimp. This shrimp lives in the shallow waters of the western Pacific Ocean.

The main limitation of pistol shrimp is their poor eyesight, which puts them at risk when they are unable to spot threats. To counteract this weakness, tiger pistol shrimp will live in burrows alongside gobies. Gobies are able to spot threats in their burrows and also share food that the tiger pistol shrimp bring back to their burrows. Given poor nutrient sources, tiger prawns can even survive on goby feces!

Tiger pistol shrimp and gobies near the pebble floor of a body of water
Pistol tiger shrimp and gobies maintain a symbiotic relationship, with pistol tiger shrimp hunting for prey and gobies spotting potential threats.

© Francesco_Ricciardi/Shutterstock.com

Other pistol shrimp will live in symbiosis with animals such as sea anemones. With over 500 described species, there is a huge biodiversity among the different types of pistol shrimp!

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In August 2020, Netflix released a new superhero movie called Project Power. The premise of the movie is that "power" pills have been developed that can give humans superpowers derived from animals. The protagonist in the film is played by Jamie Foxx, who has the ability to pistol shrimp.

According to Netflix, Project Power has been streamed more than 75 million times, making it one of the most popular movies on the streaming service.

Can pistol shrimp harm humans?

The short answer is no. Pistol shrimp can't hurt anyone. Crustacean claws do not have pincers at the end. The only thing pistol shrimp can do to people is to annoy them with the noise they make. Although, pistol shrimp produce enormous heat and sound waves that can destroy their prey. People are not on that list.

Pistol shrimp disturb the waters around them, making them some of the loudest creatures on Earth. In fact, their flow was known to damage many submarine propellers during World War II. Additionally, their sound disrupted some underwater communications. Although the sound is annoying, it does not damage the human ear.

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  • 10 Incredible Shrimp Facts – Interested in learning some simple facts about shrimp? continue reading!
  • 500-million-year-old giant 3-foot shrimp and jellyfish hybrid discovered – Check out this incredible discovery of a 500 million-year-old shrimp and jellyfish hybrid!

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pistol shrimp
pistol shrimp

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My name is Rebecca and I have been a professional freelancer for nearly ten years. I write SEO content and graphic design. When I'm not working, I'm obsessed with cats and pet mice.

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