The Pistol Shrimp Is a Tiny Creature that Makes a Big Racket Around Sanibel Island


Picture yourself paddling through a peaceful Floridian wetland. You're surrounded by the sounds of wildlife — the wind rushing through the mangroves, the cawing of colorful birds, and ... the sound of crackling Rice Krispies? Actually, that noise is a sharpshooting demo by the humble pistol shrimp, the crustacean that's always packing heat.

Stop, or My Shrimp Will Shoot

Welcome to Sanibel Island's J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. It's a great place to soak in the warm weather and marvel at the natural world, whether walking, biking, driving, or kayaking. There's plenty to catch your attention — pink spoonbills, enormous alligators, and even the occasional manatee. But one of the most incredible animals might escape your sight. You'll certainly hear them, though.

Pistol shrimp can be found in abundance on Sanibel Island. More accurately, they can be found beneath it, hunting their prey with deadly accuracy just below the water's surface. They've got one of the strangest natural weapons on the planet: a claw they can snap shut so fast it sends a bubble of air hurtling towards their target. Unfortunate underwater critters struck by such a blow are knocked out for a moment — long enough for the pistol shrimp to strike. There's a lot of pistol shrimp, and they're a bit trigger happy. Their "guns" popping off fills the air with a constant fizzing or crackling sound.

Major Firepower

J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge

The faint sound that the pistol shrimp make to our above-water ears might not be especially impressive, but when you take a closer look, these little buggers are really bringing the heat. Literally. When they snap the moving part of their claw (called the dactyl) against the immobile part (called the propus), it produces a momentary temperature spike of up to 9,932 degrees Fahrenheit (5,500 degrees Celsius). It also creates a cavitation bubble, caused by the rapid displacement of water — up to 105 feet per second. It's actually the collapse of the bubble that causes the snapping sound, not the impact of the claws.

Sanibel Island and the surrounding Fort Myers area has lots to offer besides the chance to listen in on a shrimp-sized sharpshooting match. Next time you're planning a vacation, why not head down to where some of the strangest and most amazing North American wildlife can be found? You're sure to be welcomed with a 21-shrimp salute.

Wildlife on The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

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Written by Reuben Westmaas February 27, 2018