Gonodactylus smithii

Geographic Range

Gonodactylus smithii are native to a range extending from the South Pacific Ocean through the Australian region to the western parts of the Indian Ocean (Caldwell and Dingle, 1974). Furthermore, they are found south of Japan, in the Indo-Pacific Ocean, between Guam and eastern Africa, and north of Australia (Caldwell and Dingle, 1974). There are no significant introduced geographic ranges for G. Smithii (Caldwell and Dingle, 1974). (Caldwell and Dingle, 1974)


Gonodactylus smithii occupies coral reef flats ranging from low intertidal depths as low as less than one meter to 60 meters, but are most common in the low intertidal depths (Caldwell and Dingle, 1974). They make their home in cavities of coral rubble or live coral such as porites (Caldwell and Dingle, 1974). (Caldwell and Dingle, 1974)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • reef
  • Range depth
    <1 to 60 m
    to 196.85 ft
  • Average depth
    10-30 m

Physical Description

Gonodactylus smithii typically range from 8-90 millimeters in length, but have been found as long as 3800 millimeters (Caldwell and Dingle, 1974). They are colored green to dark green with red raptorial dactyls (specialized forelimbs) and yellow antennal scales (Caldwell and Dingle, 1974). Those from depths below 10 meters often have a maroon body color. They have distinctive features of meral spots ranging from maroon to purple with a white ring. Some other distinguishing characters specific to G. smithii are purple meral spots and a red knob at the base of their uropods (Zhang, 2016). There are more than 450 sub-species of mantis shrimp that are included with G. smithii. They are polymorphic with their fellow sub-species by the specific raptorial limbs that can be moved in astonishingly fast and furious strikes (Zhang, 2016). Furthermore, some also share polymorphism of 16 types of color receptive cones in their eyes giving them a unique spectral tuning ability. The sub-species differ from G. smithii with their coloring patterns as Gonodactylus smithii has purple spots not seen in any of its other closely related species (Caldwell and Dingle, 1974). (Caldwell and Dingle, 1974; Zhang, 2016)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • female more colorful
  • sexes shaped differently
  • ornamentation
  • Range mass
    10 to 300 g
    0.35 to 10.57 oz
  • Average mass
    60 g
    2.11 oz
  • Range length
    8 to 3800 mm
    0.31 to 149.61 in
  • Average length
    100 mm
    3.94 in
  • Range basal metabolic rate
    0.0125 to 0.02 cm3.O2/g/hr
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    0.0175 cm3.O2/g/hr


Metamorphosis occurs in the life cycle of Gonodactylus smithii (Morgan 1987). The female typically carries the eggs on her back and broods them until they hatch (Morgan 1987). Before reaching maturity, G. smithii undergo a total of seven larval stages. (Morgan 1987). The first three stages each range from one to three days (Morgan 1987). Before the remaining last three larval stages, the larvae spend a stage in a burrow for around six to eight days (Morgan 1987). The final three stages of the seven combined take as long as 38 days to complete (Morgan 1987). Taking up to eight days, a final molt takes place after these seven stages, before the shrimp is an adult (Morgan 1987). (Morgan, 1987)


Gonodactylus smithii breeding occurs year-round but peaks during the warmer months. Their mating system is primarily monogamous, but there have been observations of mating with different partners, making some polygynous (Wortham-Neil, 2002). Much is still unknown about G. smithii mating processes since they mate, spawn, brood, and hatch their eggs in their burrows. Since they are such aggressive individuals and their default is to attack invaders of their burrows, mating initiates with the approaching individual or individual being approached gesturing that they are prepared, willing, and ready to mate with a waving of their raptorial meri (Kohrn 2012). Mating among G. smithii consists of the male inserting his gonadopods into the females gonadopores (Kohrn 2012). The females are oviparous and the males have an external copulatory organ. The male releases their sperm, which the female holds on to briefly. Then the female releases it along with her eggs, which fertilizes them. Because the male abandons the female shortly after fertilizing her eggs, he does not typically defend her or the eggs from threats. (Kohrn, 2012; Morgan, 1987; Wortham-Neal, 2002)

It is hard to make general statements of G. smithii reproduction behavior as very little is known about their mating. However, the number of offspring ranges from around 800-900 eggs (Wortham-Neil 2002). Their gestation period ranges from 9-60 days with the average gestation period being 40 days (Wortham-Neil 2002). The birth mass of purple spot mantis shrimp is unrecorded, along with the size of the eggs they hatch from. Their time to independence ranges from 32-91 days with the average time to independence being 62 days. Both males and females reach sexual maturity between 35 and 70 days (Morgan 1987). (Kohrn, 2012; Morgan, 1987; Wortham-Neal, 2002)

  • Breeding interval
    Gonodactylus smithii mate multiple times throughout the year.
  • Breeding season
    Purple spot mantis shrimp breed year round, but more frequently during the warmer months (Kohrn 2012).
  • Range number of offspring
    800 to 900
  • Range gestation period
    9 to 60 days
  • Average gestation period
    40 days
  • Range time to independence
    32 to 91 minutes
  • Average time to independence
    62 minutes
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    35 to 70 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    35 to 70 days

The maternal investment of purple spot mantis shrimp is much greater than any potential paternal investment. This is evident in that the fertilized eggs join together in a cluster that is held together with an adhesive produced by the female (Wortham-Neal 2002). The female carries the egg mass with her front thoracic appendages and broods them in her burrow (Wortham-Neal 2002). This entails caring for, cleaning, and aerating them, and the female does not even eat during this time (Wortham-Neal 2002). Males are not known to be significantly parentally invested (Morgan 1987). (Morgan, 1987; Wortham-Neal, 2002)


Little is known about the lifespan/longevity of purple spot mantis shrimp. For both wild and captive, the typical lower lifespan is four years and the typical upper lifespan is six years, with the average being roughly five years (Caldwell and Dingle, 1974). (Caldwell and Dingle, 1974)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    4 to 6 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: captivity
    4 to 6 years


Gonodactylus smithii are sedentary in the burrows that they form at the base of coral (Caldwell and Dingle, 1974). Aside from mating, purple spot mantis shrimp are solitary and sedentary (Caldwell and Dingle, 1974). Despite the sedentary nature in their burrows, they are known to be extremely aggressive hunters and have been found to be active both nocturnally and diurnally (Caldwell and Dingle, 1974). Purple spot mantis shrimp are also extremely territorial, which they demonstrate by the powerful smashing strikes they inflict on rival shrimps’ telsons (Karger, 2005). Because of their aggressive nature toward each other, the telson is the most heavily armored body part of mantis shrimp for protection (Karger, 2005). This smashing ability is accomplished by generating a huge amount of elastic potential energy the further back they pull their raptorial appendages, resulting in an insanely forceful double blow from one strike (Zhang, 2016). The first blow comes from the impact of the limb itself with a striking force of up to 1500 Newtons and the second comes from the initial impact's cavitation bubble explosion with the force reaching up to 500 Newtons (Zhang, 2016). Due to this insanely powerful attack strategy, there have even been reported cases of mantis shrimp that have cracked aquarium tank glass (Twin Cities Marine Aquarium Society, 2009). (Caldwell and Dingle, 1974; "Variation in Stomatopod (Gonodactylus smithii) Color Signal Design Associated with Organismal Condition and Depth", 2005; "Purple Spotted Mantis Shrimp (Gonodactylus smithii ) beh.", 2009; Zhang, 2016)

Home Range

There is little information regarding the home range of purple spot mantis shrimp. Yet they are often sedentary so they tend to primarily remain close to or inside their territorial burrows (Flanders Marine Institute, 2018). ("World Register of Marine Species", 2018)

Communication and Perception

One of the most distinguishing characteristics of the purple spot mantis shrimp is their incredibly powerful eyes. They have stalked compound eyes which enables them to process polarized and ultraviolet light in addition to color (Marshall, 2000). This visual ability likely developed and is used primarily for hunting (Marshall, 2000). They also have the ability to detect smells with their antennules (Caldwell and Dingle, 1974). Furthermore, purple spot mantis shrimp are able to communicate with vibrations for territorial defense warnings to potential predators (Marshall, 2000). These vibrations are created by stomatopod rumbles created by contractions of their posterior muscles (Marshall, 2000). (Marshall, 2000)

Food Habits

Enabled by powerful smashing raptorial claws that can shatter shells and easily stun prey, purple spot mantis shrimp are primarily carnivorous and can easily catch and eat, or store their prey (Caldwell and Dingle, 1974). Specifically, they are piscivores, molluscivores, and typically eat non-insect arthropods (Caldwell and Dingle, 1974). Gonodactylus smithii typically prey on a wide range of crustaceans, especially many types of crabs surrounding their habitat. Their diet also consists of some bivalves such as the scallop Annachlamys flabellata. Furthermore, G. smithii will occasionally prey upon gastropods, some marine warms such as Arenicola marina, and even other fellow mantis shrimp (Alves 2012). (Alves, 2012; Caldwell and Dingle, 1974)

  • Animal Foods
  • fish
  • mollusks
  • aquatic or marine worms
  • aquatic crustaceans


There are very few known predators of Gonodactylus smithii, but smaller ones can become prey to larger reef fishes and have even been found in the stomach of yellowfin tuna (Pocock, 2018). This is rare however, as purple spot mantis shrimp hide from predators in their burrows that large reef fishes cannot access (Pocock, 2018). There they can utilize their ability to generate loud vibrations, also known as "stomatopod rumbles," to warn the predators off (Marshall, 2000). (Marshall, 2000; Pocock, 2018)

Ecosystem Roles

The purple spot mantis shrimp creates habitats for other animals as a result of their habit for frequently leaving burrows they make (Alves, 2012). They also host parasites that are thought to lead to multiple diseases of their shell (Alves, 2012). No specifics on these types of parasites are known or available. (Alves, 2012)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • creates habitat

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

One benefit that purple spot mantis shrimp provide to humans are colorful and fascinating additions to aquariums (Twin Cities Marine Aquarium Society, 2009). Another is research opportunities of their powerful eyes that could potentially lead to more breakthroughs in digital/visual storage capacity (Smith, 2006). (Smith, 2006; "Purple Spotted Mantis Shrimp (Gonodactylus smithii ) beh.", 2009)

  • Positive Impacts
  • pet trade
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Gonodactylus smithii on humans (Twin Cities Marine Aquarium Society, 2009). The only potential threats from a purple spot mantis shrimp for humans is their reputation for being capable of cracking/breaking aquarium glass and their aggression to animals they share an aquarium with (Twin Cities Marine Aquarium Society, 2009). ("Purple Spotted Mantis Shrimp (Gonodactylus smithii ) beh.", 2009)

Conservation Status

The IUCN has not evaluated Gonodactylus smithii, but no agency considers it to be threatened or endangered.


Josh Luff (author), Colorado State University, Peter Leipzig (editor), Colorado State University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map


living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map

Pacific Ocean

body of water between the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), Australia, Asia, and the western hemisphere. This is the world's largest ocean, covering about 28% of the world's surface.

World Map


having coloration that serves a protective function for the animal, usually used to refer to animals with colors that warn predators of their toxicity. For example: animals with bright red or yellow coloration are often toxic or distasteful.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

external fertilization

fertilization takes place outside the female's body

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan

intertidal or littoral

the area of shoreline influenced mainly by the tides, between the highest and lowest reaches of the tide. An aquatic habitat.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.


eats mollusks, members of Phylum Mollusca


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.


an animal that mainly eats fish

polarized light

light waves that are oriented in particular direction. For example, light reflected off of water has waves vibrating horizontally. Some animals, such as bees, can detect which way light is polarized and use that information. People cannot, unless they use special equipment.


having more than one female as a mate at one time


"many forms." A species is polymorphic if its individuals can be divided into two or more easily recognized groups, based on structure, color, or other similar characteristics. The term only applies when the distinct groups can be found in the same area; graded or clinal variation throughout the range of a species (e.g. a north-to-south decrease in size) is not polymorphism. Polymorphic characteristics may be inherited because the differences have a genetic basis, or they may be the result of environmental influences. We do not consider sexual differences (i.e. sexual dimorphism), seasonal changes (e.g. change in fur color), or age-related changes to be polymorphic. Polymorphism in a local population can be an adaptation to prevent density-dependent predation, where predators preferentially prey on the most common morph.


structure produced by the calcium carbonate skeletons of coral polyps (Class Anthozoa). Coral reefs are found in warm, shallow oceans with low nutrient availability. They form the basis for rich communities of other invertebrates, plants, fish, and protists. The polyps live only on the reef surface. Because they depend on symbiotic photosynthetic algae, zooxanthellae, they cannot live where light does not penetrate.

saltwater or marine

mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

sexual ornamentation

one of the sexes (usually males) has special physical structures used in courting the other sex or fighting the same sex. For example: antlers, elongated tails, special spurs.


lives alone


mature spermatozoa are stored by females following copulation. Male sperm storage also occurs, as sperm are retained in the male epididymes (in mammals) for a period that can, in some cases, extend over several weeks or more, but here we use the term to refer only to sperm storage by females.

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"


uses touch to communicate


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others


uses sight to communicate

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year


SeaLifeBase. 2017. "Gonodactylus smithii; Pocock, 1893" (On-line). Sea Life Base. Accessed February 08, 2018 at http://www.sealifebase.org/summary/Gonodactylus-smithii.html.

Twin Cities Marine Aquarium Society. 2009. Purple Spotted Mantis Shrimp (Gonodactylus smithii ) beh.. Tridacnid and Inverts Forum, 1: 1-2. Accessed February 08, 2018 at http://www.tcmas.org/forums/threads/purple-spotted-mantis-shrimp-gonodactylus-smithii-beh.22244/.

Karger. 2005. Variation in Stomatopod (Gonodactylus smithii) Color Signal Design Associated with Organismal Condition and Depth. Brain, Behavior, and Evolution, 66: 99-113. Accessed February 08, 2018 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15942161.

Flanders Marine Institute. 2018. "World Register of Marine Species" (On-line). Accessed February 08, 2018 at http://www.marinespecies.org/aphia.php?p=taxdetails&id=210245.

Alves, G. 2012. "Invertebrates of the Coral Sea" (On-line). Accessed February 08, 2018 at http://www.gbri.org.au/Classes/2012/Gonodactylussmithii%7CGustavoMoreiraAlves.aspx?PageContentID=2833.

Caldwell, R., H. Dingle. 1974. Ecology and evolution of agonistic behavior in stomatopods. Naturwissenschaften, 62: 14-22. Accessed February 08, 2018 at https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF00603166.

Kohrn, B. 2012. "Reproductive Behavior in Stomatopods" (On-line). Accessed February 27, 2018 at http://www.reed.edu/biology/courses/BIO342/2012_syllabus/2012_WEBSITES/Website/mechanism.html.

Marshall, J. 2000. Eye Design and Color Signaling in a Stomatopod Crustacean Gonodactylus smithii. Brain, Behavior, and Evolution, 56: 107-122. Accessed February 08, 2018 at https://userpages.umbc.edu/~chiao/bbe2000.pdf.

Morgan, S. 1987. Reproduction and larval development of the mantis shrimp Gonodactylus bredini (Crustacea: Stomatopoda) maintained in the laboratory. Journal of Crustacean Biology, 7: 595-618.

Pocock, R. 2018. "Report upon the stomatopod crustaceans obtained by P.W. Basset-Smith, Esq., Surgeon R.N., during the cruise, in the Australian and China seas, of H.M.S. "Penguin", Commander W.U. Moore" (On-line). GBIF. Accessed February 08, 2018 at https://www.gbif.org/species/105799261.

Smith, D. 2006. "Species Directory" (On-line). UCMP Berkeley. Accessed February 08, 2018 at http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/arthropoda/crustacea/malacostraca/eumalacostraca/royslist/species.php?name=g_smithii.

Wortham-Neal, J. 2002. Reproductive morphology and biology of male and female mantis shrimp. Journal of Crustacean Biology, 22: 728-741.

Zhang, D. 2016. Germplasm Authentication of Mantis Shrimps. Indian Journal of Geo Marine Sciences, 45: 1471-1473.