Study Finds Mantis Shrimp Process Colors Differently Than All Other Creatures

Posted on January 23, 2014

Eyes of Odontodactylus cultrifer mantis shrimpA new study has found that the mantis shrimp uses a unique system to encode colors that is different than all other known creatures on Earth. The mantis shrimp has 12 different types of photoreceptors in their eyes. Humans have three color channels by comparison. Researcher Hanne Thoen and colleagues from the University of Queensland Brain Institute discovered that the mantis shrimp has worse color vision than humans, despite having 4 times as many channels. However, the researchers found that the mantis shrimp can process some colors instantly while color processing in humans requires sending signals to the brain for comparison.

Thoen says in a release, "Theoretically, mantis shrimp should be far better at distinguishing colours than we are. Human brains - and all other animals including birds, monkeys, frogs and fish - determine the colours of objects by comparing the relative excitation of inputs. For instance, in humans this is red, green and blue. The critical finding is that mantis shrimp do not do this, and this means their way of encoding colour is different to all other animals known."

The researchers associated food rewards with various colors. They discovered that the mantis shrimp were not easily able to discriminate between some similar colors. The mantis shrimp can quickly recognize basic colors, but struggles to tell the difference between colors like light orange and dark yellow.

The researchers think the mantis shrimp's eyes enable it to recognize basic colors almost immediately. However, it can't handle more complex colors very well. The researchers believe this rapid recognition of basic colors may help the mantis shrimp survive in the extremely colorful and dangerous world of coral reefs.

The interesting discovery could lead to improvements in devices, such as cameras. Thoen says, "Modern cameras struggle with the amount of data they take in due to increased pixel numbers. Maybe there is a more efficient way and the bio-inspiration provided by the shrimp could be the answer."

The research was published here in the journal Science.

Image courtesy of Roy L. Caldwell

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