Escape behaviour in the stomatopod crustacean Squilla mantis, and the evolution of the caridoid escape reaction

William James Heitler, K Fraser, EA Ferrero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


The mantis shrimp Squilla mantis shows a graded series of avoidance/escape responses to visual and mechanical (vibration and touch) rostral stimuli. A low-threshold response is mediated by the simultaneous protraction of the thoracic walking legs and abdominal swimmerets and telson, producing a backwards 'lurch' or jump that can displace the animal by up to one-third of its body length, but leaves it facing in the same direction. A stronger response starts with similar limb protraction, but is followed by partial abdominal flexion, The maximal response also consists of limb protraction followed by abdominal flexion, but in this case the abdominal flexion is sufficiently vigorous to pull the animal into a tight vertical loop, which leaves it inverted and facing away from the stimulus. The animal then swims forward (away from the stimulus) and rights itself by executing a half-roll.

A bilaterally paired, large-diameter, rapidly conducting axon in the dorsal region of the ventral nerve excites swimmeret protractor motoneurons in several ganglia and is likely to be the driver neuron for the limb-protraction response. The same neuron also excites unidentified abdominal trunk motoneurons, but less reliably.

The escape response is a key feature of the malacostracan caridoid facies, and we provide the first detailed description of this response in a group that diverged early in malacostracan evolution, We show that the components of the escape response contrast strongly with those of the full caridoid reaction, and we provide physiological and behavioural evidence for the biological plausibility of a limb-before-tail thesis for the evolution of the escape response.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-192
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2000


  • caridoid
  • escape response
  • tail-flip
  • evolution
  • Squilla mantis
  • shrimp
  • giant fibre


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