Thursday, April 3, 2014

Faster than a speeding bullet: the mantis shrimp

Tiffany DellaVentura
OSEEC Member

BELOW THE SURFACE

The Exploration Center & Aquarium is home to many mysterious sea creatures. The mantis shrimp is one of the more fascinating animals because of what we know about it, but also for what we don’t know. At first glance the shrimp looks harmless and almost cute, but fishermen refer to them as “thumb splitters” because of their incredibly fast and accurate claws. The claws are tucked beneath the sides of the body and resemble serrated swords. 

What makes the mantis shrimp so menacing is that the claws are capable of striking prey at 23 meters per second: the equivalent velocity of a .22 caliber weapon firing.  

Mantis shrimp (photo by Jack Kelly, Newport This Week)
Lightning reflexes and razor sharp claws are things we understand about this fierce predator. What we still don’t understand and makes the shrimp so fascinating is that they have the most complex eyes in the known animal kingdom. Compared to human eyes, which have two types of photoreceptor cells, the mantis shrimp have 16 receptors. This means they are capable for far more than we currently understand. The 16 receptors are classified into four groups; spectral, color, wavelength, and polarized. But the complexity doesn’t stop there. It is thought that mantis shrimp can see about 100,000 colors. Not only can they see color, this shrimp can see UV light and polarized light! 

So why have such complex eyes? It is still unknown, but many scientists believe the shrimp have brilliant colored courtship dances that allow the males to display beautiful color patterns to impress a female mantis.

These remarkable and mysterious shrimp call Narragansett Bay their home. They are an important predator and prey for the ecosystem of the estuary and can be viewed at our Exploration Center in Newport during our new feeding program. I invite you to check it out!

- Tiffany