Snapping Shrimp

Weddel Seal: Photo by crabby_taxonomist on Flickr.

Snapping Shrimp: Photo by crabby_taxonomist on Flickr.

Source: Paul Perkins, NUWC Engineering

Probably the most ubiquitous sound in shallow temperate waters and thus the curse of all marine life sound recordists is the sound of the snapping or “pistol” shrimp (Cragnon Synalpheus, C. Alpheus). They produce an extremely loud pop (source level 220dB re 1 uPa or 80 kPa at 4 cm). This pop stuns their prey which they can then dismember and eat without further ado.

They live in burrows and can be easily heard as a popcorn or crackling sound anywhere in the coastal ocean where you might submerge your head. Bioacoustician John Potter used this sound as an ‘acoustical illumination’ to resolve shapes underwater. Just as our eyes see light reflecting off of objects allowing us to see them, Dr. Potter speculated that the sound of the shrimp would reflect off of submerged objects allowing sea animals to “see” them in a form of “passive sonar.”

If he is correct, it would explain how nocturnal animals might perceive their surroundings when there is little or no light available. If he is correct it would also indicate that there is something about fish hearing that we don’t have quite right yet, as most fish audiograms indicate that they can’t hear in frequency bands that would allow for this type of ‘acoustical illumination’ perception.

Latin Name:
pistol shrimp, alpheid shrimp
3 to 5 cm
Physical Traits:
distinctive for its disproportionately large claw, claw can be on either arm, no pincers, instead there is a pistol-like feature with a “hammer” that snaps and creates a cavitation bubble that is loud enough to stun their prey
can share burrows with goby fish, live in colonies, snaps with claw to stun its prey, the sound can break small glass jars and can interfere with sonar and underwater communication
coral reefs, submerged seagrass flats and oyster reefs
worldwide in tropical and subtropical coastal waters
Small arthropods, zooplankton
Wikipedia: Snapping Shrimp
Discovery of Sound in the Sea: Snapping Shrimp
Temporal, geographic, and density variations in the acoustic activity of snapping shrimp Marc O. Lammers, Sara Stieb, Whitlow W.L. Au, T. Aran Mooney, Russell E. Brainard, and Kevin Wong J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 120, 3013 (2006)Snapping shrimp noise in the Korean coast of the Yellow Sea Byoung-Nam Kim, Suk Wang Yoon, Bok Kyoung Choi, Bong-Chae Kim, and Cheolsoo Kim
InterNoise Proc. 206, 3738 (2003)On the sound of snapping shrimp: The collapse of a cavitation bubble
Michel Versluis, Anna von der Heydt, Detlef Lohse, and Barbara Schmitz
J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 108, 2541Imaging in the ocean with ambient noise: the ORB experiments Chad L. Epifanio, John R. Potter, Grant B. Deane, Mark L. Readhead, and Michael J. Buckingham
J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 106, 3211 (1999)
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