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Shock waves are supersonic high-amplitude pressure waves that cause barotrauma when they transfer kinetic energy to the tissues of animals.1, 2, 3, 4 Snapping shrimp (Alpheidae) produce shock waves and are exposed to them frequently, so we asked if these animals have evolved mechanisms of physical protection against them. Snapping shrimp generate shock waves by closing their snapping claws rapidly enough to form cavitation bubbles that release energy as an audible “snap” and a shock wave when they collapse.5, 6, 7, 8 We tested if snapping shrimp are protected from shock waves by a helmet-like extension of their exoskeleton termed the orbital hood. Using behavioral trials, we found shock wave exposure slowed shelter-seeking and caused a loss of motor control in Alpheus heterochaelis from which we had removed orbital hoods but did not significantly affect behavior in shrimp with unaltered orbital hoods. Shock waves thus have the potential to harm snapping shrimp but may not do so under natural conditions because of protection provided to shrimp by their orbital hoods. Using pressure recordings, we discovered the orbital hoods of A. heterochaelis dampen shock waves. Sealing the anterior openings of orbital hoods diminished how much they altered the magnitudes of shock waves, which suggests these helmet-like structures dampen shock waves by trapping and expelling water so that kinetic energy is redirected and released away from the heads of shrimp. Our results indicate orbital hoods mitigate blast-induced neurotrauma in snapping shrimp by dampening shock waves, making them the first biological armor system known to have such a function.

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Kingston, A. C. N., Woodin, S. A., Wethey, D. S., & Speiser, D. I. (2022). Snapping shrimp have helmets that protect their brains by dampening shock waves. Current Biology, 32(16).

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