Color Your Life

Well after that doozy of a post yesterday, I think I’ll stick to something more in my comfort zone.

Wouldn’t it be weird to be a mantis shrimp?

File:Curious mantis shrimp from Gilli Banta reef.JPG

The peacock mantis shrimp (Odontodactylus scyllarus) near Gilli Banta Island (near Komodo, Indonesia) – Wiki Commons

You might think that I have Photoshopped this above image using different animal parts to compose a crazy, colorful animal, but you would be wrong. It’s a real sea creature.

There are over 400 species of mantis shrimp. And these aren’t ‘shrimp’ in the conventional sense; they can reach up to a foot in length! Most are tropical, long-lived, and spend their mostly solitary lives hiding in crevices. Thus, we know very little about them, except that they’re silly looking.

And they know it too, because they have a most incredible visual system that is unparalleled in the animal kingdom. Just look at those googly eyes!

File:Mantis Shrimp.jpg

Peacock mantis shrimp by Nazir Amin (Wiki Commons)

Not only can they move their eyes independently of each other, they also are capable of using each eye for trinocular vision – seeing with three parts for each eye. To say their vision is precise would be a bit of an understatement.

The human retina has two photoreceptor types: rods and cones. Your rods are specialized for night vision (i.e. sharpness of images in black and white), while your cones are specialized for color vision. Both contribute to your visual system for you to see images. Just think of what we are able to accomplish with just two photoreceptors.

And yet, some species of mantis shrimp put us to shame because they have SIXTEEN photoreceptor types. Twelve of those are sensitive to color, including UV. The other four are dedicated to visualizing polarized light.

Mindblowing, isn’t it?

Clearly, visual communication is important for these organisms. Now, for what purpose could they possibly be using this advanced visual system?

Current hypotheses involve signaling to rivals, predators, or mates. Apparently, their bright markings can make them appear bigger and accentuate their weapons (i.e. claws), which could be helpful if they want to detract a rival or predator or attract a mate. They also actively fluoresce before mating. So perhaps they have evolved such an elaborate visual system as a means to secretly communicate with each other. None of their predators seem to have as complex vision, so they can enjoy the benefit of signaling to the object of their affection without being detected and preyed upon.

And did I mention that some of them are monogamous? Given that monogamy is rare in the animal kingdom, this is a bit surprising.

So other than the fact that they are silly looking, we do know a little bit more about them. They exhibit highly complex behaviors, and I for one am looking forward to learning more about this remarkable animal. And its googly eyes.


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