Put on those vintage red and blue 3D glasses, settle in with a bucket of your favorite snack, and get ready to enjoy a movie, just like the good old days. But in this case, the audience members are all cuttlefish and they prefer shrimp over popcorn. The videos are also about shrimp, not the usual 3D gimmicks. In order to study how the complicated eyes of these ocean animals work, scientists outfitted them with their very own version of 3D glasses. It’s serious science that looks quite silly.
This research, which we saw in Smithsonian Magazine, came out in 2020 but is making the rounds again. According to the researchers, their cuttlefish test subjects only learned to tolerate the bulky 3D glasses when rewarded with lots of shrimp to snack on. Once the experiments got underway, it was clear that cuttlefish use stereo vision just like humans. This means they use the differences between what each eye sees in order to provide depth perception and successfully snatch prey with their tentacles. In the video below, you can see that the cuttlefish backs up or moves forward depending on where the 3D glasses project the shrimp.
Stereo vision was long thought to be exclusive to mammals. But now we know that both cuttlefish and praying mantises enjoy a trip to the 3D theater as well. Cuttlefish have complicated eyes with W-shaped pupils and scientists aren’t sure yet how their brains process vision. Meanwhile, their octopus relatives are known to be quite clever and have rectangular pupils that inspired Jordan Peele’s design for the alien in Nope.
Science Advances published the open access peer-reviewed article about cuttlefish watching 3D movies. It isn’t the first cuttlefish research we’ve come across. Scientists also ran experiments similar to the famous “Marshmallow test” that many human children fail. Cuttlefish, however, will skip a snack when they know their favorite dish is coming later.
Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth.