Monday, July 16, 2012

The Amazing Mantis Shrimp

This weeks colorful adventure is taking us under water to the tropical home of the Mantis shrimp, or Hoplocarida Stomatopod.  These colorful beauties are most famous for their amazing claws, which they use to bludgeon their prey.  Their claws have been clocked from a standing start  at speeds  comparable  to the  of firing a .22 caliber bullet.  Wikipedia mentions their incredible destructive power: "Although it happens rarely, some larger species of mantis shrimp are capable of breaking through aquarium glass with a single strike from this weapon."

These creatures have another amazing quality -  their highly evolved eyes. But before we reveal just how amazing lets explain a bit about color vision. In humans,  color is seen using three color specialized cells called photoreceptors. Humans have red, green and blue receptor cells which can combine to  give us access to all the colors we see everyday, the  seven color rainbow. Your dog has only blue yellow vision so its rainbow is only yellow, green and blue.  Butterflies for example have 5 different photoreceptor cells so they can see more colors in the rainbow; colors located in the  ultra violet spectrum as well  as additional colors that fall between blue and green. 

The beautiful texture of the Mantis Shrimp eye via Meintank
And then we get to the mantis shrimp who weight in with no less than 16 unique photoreceptor cells. These amazing eyes, the most sensitive know to science, allow them to see 5 or 6 different kinds of ultraviolet, a far more nuanced version of our rainbow, as well as far in to the infrared. As Mark Changizi states on a RadioLab podcast on the subject: "They have the most complicated visual system of any animals by a factor of two or more." Can you imagine seeing such a richly diverse array of colors?

 If you want to hear all about these amazing shrimp as well as the history of color science starting with Newton through the brains construction of color Radiolab has a great podcast all about it.

- Emily Eifler, Writer, Colour Studio
- Jill Pilaroscia, Principal, Colour Studio