Flanders family finds elusive crustacean

05/05/2011 6:52 AM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Janice Fleming holds the now deceased mantis shrimp that she and her children Tristan, 3, and Lakota, 9, found while wading in the bay at Indian Island Park.

Janice Fleming was walking along the beach at Indian Island County Park on a sunny day last month when her 3-year-old son, Tristan, pointed to a pair of googly eyes staring up at them from the water.

Upon closer inspection, the Flemings, who hail from Flanders, realized those eyes belonged to a small and extremely unusual looking crustacean that had mandibles, pinchers and about a six-inch tail.

“I picked him right up,” Ms. Fleming said. “I put him in a little bucket and he tried to flip. I didn’t realize he was trying to pinch me.”

They assumed their new pet was a baby lobster, and Ms. Fleming’s 9-year-old daughter, Lakota, held the bucket on the drive home.
But the Fleming family, which also includes daughter Breana, 15, and dad Kevin, soon realized the creature didn’t much look like a lobster, a shrimp or any other sea creature they’d ever seen. After a Google search for “life cycle of crustaceans,” Ms. Fleming realized what they’d found: a mantis shrimp.

Neither a shrimp nor a mantis, the mantis shrimp is native to our area, though it is rarely seen because it lives in deep burrows and is nocturnal, according to Atlantis Marine World biologist Todd Gardner. The species got its name because it looks like a cross between a shrimp and a praying mantis.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A mantis shrimp at Atlantis Marine World aquarium.

“It’s not something you would see normally being at the beach swimming or fishing,” Mr. Gardner explained.

At home, the Flemings put the mantis shrimp in a plastic tank, having read that mantis shrimp can crack glass tanks with their powerful tails.

Mr. Fleming said the family would travel to the bay twice a day to circulate their little habitat with new saltwater. They also fed it mussels, snails and tiny shrimp that they pulled from the bay.

Even with all that special attention, the little guy died last Sunday after about a 10-day stay with the Flemings. Tristan seemed puzzled as to why the creature, which he had come to call “Shrimpy,” was not moving as he examined the exoskeleton.

“He was just so cool,” Mr. Fleming lamented.

Mr. Gardner said the mantis shrimp was probably sick because they don’t usually hang out near surface waters. He said Atlantis gets a call about twice a year from someone who’s found a mantis shrimp, frequently near the Shinnecock Canal in Hampton Bays. Atlantis has its own mantis shrimp on display.

“If you go diving, sometimes you come across a whole expanse of hundreds of holes,” he said. “They’re about two inches deep. If you shine a flashlight you can see them.”

The creature can be brown, like the one the Flemings found, or brightly colored like the one at Atlantis.

As for the Flemings, they plan to stay on the lookout for another pair of bug-like eyes.

“He was just so beautiful in the water,” Ms. Fleming said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever catch another one.”


19 Comment

  • should have left it in the Bay. removing an animal of any type from a natural habitat is cruel and very selfish.

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  • I agree RCP…they seemed puzzled as to why the little creature died – maybe because it does not belong in a plastic tanks…This story should be about leaving nature in its habitat – not that a family took one from bay and ultimately killed it…

  • Why are the two comments here negative? While I do agree that they should have left him in the bay, I think that it is still an awesome story! As someone who has lived on LI my entire life, I can say that there were times in my life, especially my childhood, where I had done similar things. It sparked the kids curiosity and they wanted to learn more about it! I say, good for them for exploring the great outdoors and everything that LI beaches have to offer!

  • A child bringing home a mantis shrimp from the beach evokes cries of “killer” and “cruel and very selfish”! I just hope they didn’t bring home any seashells. That would be too much to fathom.

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