The ocean breeds all sorts of wonderfully odd creatures. Just watch any nature documentary and you’ll be shown an array of animals you never knew existed, and probably some you never could have imagined.
One of these fascinating deep-sea oddities is the mantis shrimp. Not only does its colorful exoskeleton place it among the most beautiful of all undersea creatures, but it has a whole slew of impressive and nearly unbelievable characteristics that separate it from its crustacean brethren.
Scientists are very interested in the mantis shrimp — and with good reason, too. Here are some of this magnificent little arthropod’s most intriguing, and astonishing, qualities.
Human eyes have two types of receptors, rods and cones, which enable us to see motion and three colors: red, green, and blue. Mantis shrimp have 16 color-sensitive receptors. Sixteen! That translates to about nine “colors” that we simply can’t see or imagine.
They also roll their eyes in order to see polarized light, another property that humans can’t really pick up on. The closest thing we can liken it to is the way sunglasses reduce glare and help us differentiate bright objects better.
Their colorful bodies aren’t just for attracting mates like peacocks do; mantis shrimp can actually communicate by reflecting certain types of light off their bodies. Subtle changes that are invisible to us convey information about potential shelter — and potential prey.
Each one has two types of claws, hammers and spears, which do pretty much what their names imply. These things are completely deadly. A mantis shrimp’s claws move with the velocity of a .22 caliber bullet and hit with 377 pounds of force. If human arms could reach 1/10th of that power, we could throw a baseball into space.
Their claws move so fast that the water around them boils and gives off light when they strike. Mantis shrimp are rarely kept in aquariums, not only because they’re a threat to everything else that might be kept in there, but more importantly, because they can easily break the glass.
Mantis shrimp bodies are uniquely designed to handle that power. Their exoskeletons are calcium-based like other crustaceans, but they have a unique formation that distributes and dissipates the force of their claws. The military is studying their exoskeletons to develop more efficient armor for soldiers.
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