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J Exp Biol. 2012 Apr 1;215(Pt 7):1231-45. doi: 10.1242/jeb.061465.

Gearing for speed slows the predatory strike of a mantis shrimp.

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of California, Irvine, CA 92697-2525, USA.


The geometry of an animal's skeleton governs the transmission of force to its appendages. Joints and rigid elements that create a relatively large output displacement per unit input displacement have been considered to be geared for speed, but the relationship between skeletal geometry and speed is largely untested. The present study explored this subject with experiments and mathematical modeling to evaluate how morphological differences in the raptorial appendage of a mantis shrimp (Gonodactylus smithii) affect the speed of its predatory strike. Based on morphological measurements and material testing, we computationally simulated the transmission of the stored elastic energy that powers a strike and the drag that resists this motion. After verifying the model's predictions against measurements of strike impulse, we conducted a series of simulations that varied the linkage geometry, but were provided with a fixed amount of stored elastic energy. We found that a skeletal geometry that creates a large output displacement achieves a slower maximum speed of rotation than a low-displacement system. This is because a large displacement by the appendage causes a relatively large proportion of its elastic energy to be lost to the generation of drag. Therefore, the efficiency of transmission from elastic to kinetic energy mediates the relationship between the geometry and the speed of a skeleton. We propose that transmission efficiency plays a similar role in form-function relationships for skeletal systems in a diversity of animals.

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