Paleo Profile: The Northern Mantis Shrimp

Peacock-mantis
A modern peacock mantis shrimp. Photo by Mike Bok.
A peacock mantis shrimp. Credit: Mike Bok.

As far as invertebrates go, mantis shrimps are celebrities. They’re so creepy that they have come out the other side to become cool, and their penchant for punching or stabbing their prey with remarkable speed making them a pop science hit every time a new paper about their behavior drops. Not that any of this is brand new in evolutionary terms. Just like every other group of organisms alive today, mantis shrimps have a fossil record, and the latest member of their famous family has shown up in an unexpected place.

Marine biologists have counted 27 living species of mantis shrimp along North America’s Pacific coast. Most of these are scattered through the warmer waters of California and its southern Gulf. But in the past, when sea temperatures were warmer, mantis shrimps had an even wider range, underscored by a new fossil described by Carolin Haug and colleagues.

Thanks to a quartet of fossils, given the name Squilla erini, the paleontologists were able to put a pin in Oregon on the fossil mantis shrimp map. None have been found this far north before. More tepid temperatures probably allowed this species to make a home in a place that’s now inhospitable to the invertebrates, and perhaps offers a glimpse of what’s to come. In a warming world, maybe mantis shrimps will again go on the march.

Fossils of Squilla erini. From Haug et al., 2015.
Fossils of Squilla erini. From Haug et al., 2015.

Fossil Facts

Name: Squilla erini

Meaning: Squilla, Latin for “shrimp”, is the genus that many modern mantis shrimps belong to, while erini honors Erin Kovalchuk, the wife of study author Gregory Kovalchuk.

Age: Around 23 million years old.

Where in the world?: Oregon, U.S.A.

What sort of critter?: One of the mantis shrimps.

Size: About twice the size of today’s small-sized mantis shrimps.

How much of the creature’s body is known?: Most of the body from four partial bodies preserving different aspects of the shrimp.

Reference:

Haug, C., Nyborg, T., Kovalchuk, G., Nyborg, B., Haug, J. 2015. Pushing the limits to the north – a fossil mantis shrimp from Oregon, USA. Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie. doi: 10.1127/njgpa/2015/0528

Previous Paleo Profiles:

The Unfortunate Dragon
The Cross Lizard
The South China Lizard
Zhenyuan Sun’s dragon
The Fascinating Scrap
The Sloth Claw
The Hefty Kangaroo
Mathison’s Fox
Scar Face
The Rain-Maker Lizard
“Lightning Claw”
The Ancient Agama
The Hell-Hound
The Cutting Shears of Kimbeto Wash
The False Moose
“Miss Piggy” the Prehistoric Turtle
Mexico’s “Bird Mimic”
The Greatest Auk
Catalonia’s Little Ape
Pakistan’s Butterfly-Faced Beast
The Head of the Devil
Spain’s Megatoothed Croc
The Smoke Hill Bird
The Vereda Hilarco Beast
The North’s Sailback
Amidala’s Strange Horn

2 thoughts on “Paleo Profile: The Northern Mantis Shrimp

  1. “Size: About twice the size of today’s small-sized mantis shrimps.”

    Um…I hate to complain, but that doesn’t tell you anything about this creature’s size unless you know the dimensions of today’s “small-sized” mantis shrimp. And even then, it’s unclear what “small-sized” actually means. Extant stomatopods range in length from under 2 centimeters to over 15 inches. Squilla mantis (the “original” mantis shrimp, nomenclaturally speaking) measures 5–8 inches, and Wikipedia claims that most mantis shrimp species are around 4 inches. So, which of these, if any, constitutes a “small-sized” mantis shrimp?

    By now it should be obvious what I’m getting at: Why not just tell us the length/relevant measurements of Squilla erini? (Surely Haug, et al. provided more information than this about the dimensions of the fossils?) Comparisons are all well and good for helping people visualize the scale of an extinct animal, but unless accompanied by more specific measurements, they aren’t very useful for conveying objective information.

    1. Okay, I took some rough measurements of image C from the fossil photos, and it looks like the abdomen is about 98 mm in length (~127 mm to the top of the image), and 40 mm in diameter at its widest point. So this mantis shrimp must have been at least 5 inches long.

      I’m fascinated by the toothy serrations along the edge of the telson. (I wonder what the authors say about those.) It turns out that some extant mantis shrimps, like Squilla empusa, are similarly adorned, but I’d never seen photos that focus closely enough on their tail ends to make such characteristics noticeable. I do have to say, despite my dissatisfaction with the “size” entry of this profile, I really appreciate seeing the fossil record of my favorite crustaceans get some attention.

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