Anglers are generally accustomed to the unexpected, but when Steve Bargeron saw a fellow fisherman pull a massive 18-inch “shrimp” out of the water, he forgot all about fishing. The event happened recently in a dock near Fort Pierce, Florida, a popular spot for deep sea fishing. Bargeron later sent in photographs of the crustacean to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), where biologists are trying to narrow down the specific species of the shrimp. The popular consensus is that the large crustacean is actually some kind of overgrown mantis shrimp.

“Steve said the massive thing was about 18 inches long and striking its own tail, so he grabbed it by its back like a lobster,” the FWC wrote on its Facebook page.

There are about 400 species of mantis shrimp in the world and the larger ones can average 12 inches in length. Older and rarer specimens have been found to be near the 15-inch range, making the recent Florida catch exceptionally unique. Despite their name, mantis shrimp are not real shrimp at all, but a stomatopod only distantly related to crabs, shrimp, and lobsters. Mantis shrimp also have a notorious reputation for being aggressive predators. Most species of the critter are categorized based on their claw shape, as either “smashers” or “spearers,” and both pack a wallop. These underwater hunters lay in wait for passing prey and then quickly strike out with their claws, impaling or bashing the unfortunate victim. The punches of some species are so strong that the mantis shrimp will generate cavitation bubbles, essentially creating a shock wave that follows the intial strike. The force of the assault can also sometimes produce light and heat underwater. Not surprisingly, mantis shrimp use this ability to defeat the shells of snails, oysters, other crustaceans, and the occasional fish tank.

“I’m not sure whether to fire up the grill or go into the fetal position from how creepy it is,” said one of the many commentors that responded to the FWC’s Facebook posting.

Mantis shrimp feature prominently in East Asian cuisine, where they are more abundantly caught. The flesh of a mantis shrimp is considered to be sweet and more comparable to lobster meat than other shrimp. It is usually fried with garlic and spices in Chinese cuisine, whereas it is reserved for sashimi in Japan.

It is not known how the angler was able to entice this particular mantis shrimp to the surface, or what became of the shrimp after it was caught.

Learn more about the mantis shrimp in this video by the Smithsonian Channel:

Image courtesy Steve Bargeron/Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

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