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

Paleo Profile: The Northern Mantis Shrimp

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.

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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.

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