One of the most remarkable creatures beneath the surface of the ocean is the mantis shrimp, which isn't actually a mantis or a shrimp. (It belongs to an order called stomatopoda). This incredible crustacean has what is thought to be the most complex set of eyes in the animal kingdom, can punch with the same velocity as a .22 caliber rifle, and is being studied to create stronger and lighter armor for military use. If those facts don't distract you from the cat video on your Facebook feed, then read no further, I've got nothing for you.

The beautiful, infamous, Peacock Mantis (Odontodactylus scyllarus)


If you've decided to stick around, then enjoy these fun facts about nature's own kaleidoscope demon. Or maybe it's a superhero. I'll let you decide.

1. Eyes That Can See Things We Can't Even Comprehend. 

Mantis shrimps have the most complex visual system ever discovered. Let's start with their color photoreceptors. Humans have three sets of color receptive cones, that allow us to see the colors red, green and blue. Birds, reptiles, and many fish have a fourth that detects ultraviolet light. Mantis shrimp have 12-16!

The eyes of a Tiger Mantis (Lysiosquilla maculata), peeping up from his burrow in the sand. Don't those eyes just look as though they can see everything in the universe? 


2. And Yet They're Not as Adept at Differentiating Between Colors.

These 16 photoreceptors have led many to believe that mantis shrimp can see an infinitely greater number of colors than the ones found in even your most elaborate paint deck, but researchers have discovered that you and I are still better at differentiating between subtle hues. Check out this article by National Geographic for an example of the colors we can differentiate between vs. the ones a mantis shrimp can. (Although I'm embarrassed to admit the blue hues looked the same to me).

3. They Have Trinocular Vision.

That means that each eye can individually gauge depth and distance on its own, by focusing on objects with three separate regions.


Another example of Tiger Mantis eyes periscoping up out of the sand. These guys can grow to be 16 inches!


4. So What Do Those Eyes Do? 

The short answer is, despite all the information out there, we still don't know the full potential of a mantis shrimp's optic abilities. It is believed that they absorb visual information into their brains all at once without processing it, allowing for quicker reaction times. They are also the first animal to be discovered that exhibits a visual system that can see a special spiraling type of light called circularly polarized light. This is now getting a bit more scientific than I had intended, but if that floats your boat, you can read more about it here. 

5. Mantis Shrimps Can See Cancer Cells.

One benefit to being able to detect polarized light is that mantis shrimps can detect cancer, even before symptoms appear. This is because polarized light reflects differently between cancerous cells and healthy tissue. This superhero-like ability is helping scientists to develop cameras to detect cancer. 

Keel Tail Mantis (Odontodactylus cultrifer). This guy just looks like a mystical, Eastern healer, capable of curing cancer via reiki and singing Kumbaya. 



6. They Can Communicate in Secret Codes. 

The ability to see polarized light has another advantage: communication. Mantis shrimps can not only see polarized light, but can manipulate it as well. It turns out that they bounce polarized light off of their feeing appendages, called maxillipeds, in order to communicate with each other in secret light codes. Read more on the science behind that here. 

7. Smashers Vs. Spearers.

There are hundreds of different species of mantis shrimps (the number is somewhere between 350 and 500 depending on which source you refer to). These are usually clumped into two different varieties. Smashers have blunt raptorial appendages, also called dactyl clubs, used for bludgeoning their prey to bits. This makes eating crabs, lobsters, and other shellfish, a much easier task than it is for you and me. Spearers have long raptorial appendages with barbed tips for stabbing their prey.

8. That Gunshot Statistic You Probably Read Somewhere Before. 

Smashers, namely the infamous peacock mantis shrimp, can accelerate their dactyl clubs with the same velocity as a gunshot from a twenty-two caliber rifle. They can strike prey with 1500 Newtons of force in less than three-thousandths of a second. If human beings could accelerate our arms at 1/10th of that speed, we'd be able to throw a baseball into orbit (according to The Oatmeal). If we could punch with that much force relative to our own weight, we'd be able to punch through steel (according to Fact Animal).

A keel tail mantis harassing Fletch's harassment stick. You can actually hear the impact! Scroll to the bottom to see the video.


9. Supercavitation and Sonoluminescence.

The incredible speed of a smasher's movement actually causes the water around them to boil. Actually, boil is an understatement; the temperature is nearly as hot as the sun. The collapse of these bubbles causes a shockwave that can kill prey even if the mantis misses his shot, a phenomenon known as supercavitation. All of this produces sparks of light, called sonoluminescence.

10. A Subject of Military Research. 

Mantis shrimps can deliver 1000 punches between molts. How do they deliver such deadly blows, and so repeatedly, without injuring themselves? This question is helping researchers to develop new composite materials to create better body armors, car frames, and aircraft panels.

11. Romantic Tendencies Despite the Violent Abilities. 

Despite their murderous tendencies, mantis shrimps can actually be quite the romantics. Some species are known to engage in the rare practice of social monogamy. They will choose one partner with whom to share food, shelter, and raise offspring over the course of a lifetime. This allows them to live a relatively sedentary lifestyle, away from predators, because deep down, they're really just beautiful little homebodies.

12. If You Like WebComics... 

...then you simply must check out these hilarious and completely factual illustrations by The Oatmeal (the creator of Exploding Kittens). One day I'll get around to having a poster framed for the wall. It's that great. (Or maybe I'm just that much of a nerd).

13. If You Like Comedy Skits and Nature Documentaries

...then this is the video for you. 


Finally, I'll leave you with my own video of a keel tail mantis shrimp (the same one from the photo above) attacking Fletch's pointy metal stick. If you turn the volume up, you can actually hear the impact. After failing to crack open the metal stick, he turned around and started going after Tanja's camera lens. Quite understandably, she backed away to protect her lens. The other noises you hear are Fletch laughing, and the zoom function on my camera. (I never claimed to be an expert videographer).

So what do you think? Colorful assassin or aquatic superhero? Drop a comment!