If you head to the northern coastline of Western Australia you might be able to hear the sound of bacon frying on a pan. However, the origin of this sound is not sizzling bacon - sorry to disappoint. This symphony is being created by a large group of snapping shrimp, it’s... a shrimphony.

Marine experts from Curtin University and the Western Australian Museum were recently diving in the West Holothuria Reef complex; located in Wunambal Gaambera wundaagu saltwater country on the northern tip of Western Australia. It was there that they experienced the most snappy, crackly, and poppy reef they had ever encountered.

Snapping shrimp are identifiable by their single giant claw which can grow up to half their body size. The snapping sound isn’t simply created by the pincers of the claw slamming together. When snapping shrimp open their claw, water fills a small cavity inside the claw, and when the claw snaps shut with an acceleration of up to 580,000 m/s2, water is shot out at approximately 90 km/h. This super-fast snap (500 times faster than a human blink) creates super-low water pressure which produces a super cool bubble. 

The bubble immediately collapses in on itself with such force that it creates a shockwave. This shockwave has enough to stun or even kill a small fish, which the snapping shrimp will then gobble up with ease. The sound of the imploding bubble has previously been measured to be as high as 215 dB, louder than a gunshot. The way that the shrimp loudly “shoots” a bubble to kill its prey, is why snapping shrimp are also known as pistol shrimp.  

Snapping Shrimp in Action. Video: Jacob Harrison via Science News

When the bubble implodes, it can reach temperatures of over 4,500°C, which is nearly as hot as the surface of the sun at 5,500°C. Additionally, the imploding bubbles release a small amount of light, in a process called sonoluminescence. The odd thing is, is that the mechanics of this sonoluminescence process are completely unknown to scientists. The snapping shrimp truly is a marvel stunning both fish and scientists alike.  

The British company First Light Fusion has been inspired by the imploding bubble of the snapping shrimp. They recognise the incredibly energetic conditions of the imploding bubble and hope to harness this energy to kick-start nuclear fusion. In a few years, my home might be powered by clean energy created by First Light Fusion. If that does happen, I can assure you I’ll find a snapping shrimp and say ‘Thank you. Thank you for being so cool’. 


Cover Image: Synalpheus pinkflyodi via Oxford University Museum of Natural History