Let’s Talk About the Mantis Shrimp’s Amazing (and Freaky) Eyeballs

There are tons and tons of insane sea creatures cruising around the ocean — like these freaky ones in the Mariana Trench — but in terms of absurd ocular capabilities, the mantis shrimp, or stomatopod, is apparently king. These little shrimp have alien eyes that can see wavelengths of light that we can’t, and also move, and perceive depth, independently.

The video of the crazy, colorful Mantis shrimp showing off its bizarre peepers, which comes via Laughing Squid, was posted by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. These are the same fine folks who brought us video of a baby nautilus hatching, as well as little stingrays eating food (which is amazingly cute—definitely watch that).

In the clip, we see the mantis shrimp in a tank at the aquarium, moving its eyes independently of each other as it scopes out its surroundings not only in the wavelength band of the electromagnetic spectrum that we humans can see (i.e. colors), but also in the ultraviolet (UV) band. Its eyes are also picking up on polarized light, which is light that vibrates on a single plane versus multiple planes (a more in-depth explanation for that can be found here), as well as circularly polarized light.

The mantis shrimp is able to see all these different types of light because it has 16 distinctive types of photoreceptors in its eyeballs, which are responsible for turning waves of light into biological processes for visual information processing. For reference, butterflies have five photoreceptors, birds have four, and we lowly humans have three.

The ommatidia, or clusters of photoreceptor cells, in the shrimps’ eyes not only perceive all those different types of light, they’re also positioned in a way in each eye to allow the mantis shrimp to see narrow strips of the world around them independently and with depth, creating a brilliant, panoramic view of what’s in front of them.

This ability to see so extraordinarily well comes in handy for the mantis shrimp not only for locating prey—which it subsequently punches to death with its .22 caliber claws—but also for spotting enemy shrimp and possible mates. And also, maybe finding a way to their home planet.

What are your thoughts on this eye-tastic type of shrimp? Do you want to know what it feels like to see the world through shrimp eyes? Let us know in the comments!

Images: YouTube / Monterey Bay Aquarium

Eyeballs, eyeballs, eyeballs!

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