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Pseudosquilla ciliata is known by many names such as the common mantis, false mantis, rainbow mantis, ciliated mantis, and the checkered eye mantis. It is a mantis shrimp (Stomatopoda), one of about 15 species in family Pseudosquillidae (Ahyong 2013). The common mantis is a marine species (as are all stomatopods) found in tropical and sub-tropical low intertidal areas and shallow waters (up to about 50 m, or 150 feet deep) world-wide, except in the far eastern Pacific along the American coast. A generalist in terms of habitat, it lives in u-shaped burrows it digs in sandy substrates near reefs or in eel-grass beds and also inhabits cavities in dead coral heads (Caldwell 2005; Kinsie 1968; 1984).
The common mantis stays in its burrow at night, but ventures out by day and is an opportunistic feeder and active hunter, catching small crustaceans, worms and fish. It is has lightening-fast, spearer-style raptorial appendages, which it uses to strike at it’s prey in a manner similar to a preying mantis (Caldwell 2005).
Pseudosquilla ciliata grows to 9.5 cm (3.7 inches) long, with a variable coloration pattern often coordinating with its habitat: green, brown, yellow, or black, sometimes mottled or with a dorsal stripe, and checkered eyes (Caldwell 2005).
The common mantis is regularly found in the aquarium industry. It is a hardy species that does well in captivity (Caldwell 2005).
Pseudosquilla ciliata is one of the few large, and until 1953 was recored as the most common, shallow water stomatopods in Hawaii. More recently it appears to be excluded from inhabiting dead coral heads by two other large stomatopods found in Hawaii, Gonodactylus falcatus and G. hendersoni, which are more aggressive species than P. ciliata and appear to dominate in competition for nooks in coral heads (Kinzie 1968, 1984 and references therein). Kinzie (1968, 1984) proposes that these two Gonodactylus species may have been accidentally introduced to Hawaii from the west Pacific, possibly from US barges used in World War II, subsequently reducing the distribution (and abundance) of P. ciliata to sandy flats. Another hypothesis posits that the species known as G. falcatus in Hawaii is in fact a cryptic endemic Hawaiian species (G. aloha) rather than a foreign introduction, and not recognized as a separate species until recently. This senario posits that G. aloha has always lived in (and excluded P. ciliata from) dead coral heads and that an increase in dead coral heads habitat in the last 50+ years has allowed for an increase in abundance of G. aloha (Kinzie 1968; 1984; Manning and Reaka 1981).