August 2014

Vision, eyes and sight: See more - sunscreen for the eyes

A few months ago I wrote about the interesting visual system of the Mantis shrimp . These animals are fascinating creatures - and in opposition to what their name suggests are neither mantises nor shrimp, but rather they are arthropods.

These marine animals are known mainly for their super-fast attack strike, which can be as fast as a .22 calibre bullet and is used to crack open mussels or other prey.

But what I find particularly interesting about the animals is their visual system - with an amazing 16 photoreceptors, compared to the only 3 we humans have. In the last article I wrote about a study published in January in Science [1] which showed that although the mantis shrimp have a visual system that looks very impressive, they are surprisingly bad at actually discriminating between different colours. (You can read more details about this here).

But mantis shrimp vision research is on a role and there was a new and very interesting study published on 3 July in Current Biology [2]. In this study a team of researchers lead by Michael Bok from the University of Maryland, looked at another aspect of the visual system of these animals, specifically in the species Neogonodactylus oerstedii.

While we previously learned that the shrimp have a surprisingly poor colour discrimination - this holds true only for colours we can actually see - blue, green, red etc. But the mantis shrimp, like a number of other marine creatures, can also see ultraviolet light (UV) - which has shorter wavelengths than the light we humans can see. Surprisingly, this is the most poorly understood aspect of the mantis shrimps' vision, although 6 out of their 16 photoreceptors are dedicated to receiving UV light.

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