The mantis shrimp is famous among researchers for its extraordinary vision. It needs such exceptional vision to have pinpoint accuracy when it uses its world-record-setting speed to smash or spear prey. So what makes this shrimp's vision so special?

The mantis shrimp's eye uses thousands of light-trapping ommatidia. The ommatidia are divided into three sections per eye, each section moving independently and each with its own pseudopupils. This allows the mantis shrimp to take in the world using six images. Six! We humans only use two.

But that's not the whole story. The shrimp also uses polarization to analyze the angle at which lightwaves are traveling so that it can better detect prey. The video below from KQED explains how the mantis shrimp uses polarization, and importantly, how that ability is inspiring scientists.


A group of researchers is looking into how to create polarization cameras that would allow doctors to detect cancer early. KQED reports:

The cameras, which are small enough for endoscopic use, can see polarization patterns on the surfaces of human and animal tissue. At the cellular level, fast-growing cancer cells are disorganized compared to healthy cells like skin and muscle. Because of the structural differences, healthy and diseased tissues react differently to polarized light.These signs show up early with cancer, before cues that typically alert doctors. Current colonoscopy techniques, for example, employ black and white images to look for abnormal shapes, such as polyps. But sometimes, cancerous tissue in the colon is flat, blending in with healthy tissue.

So potentially, the very vision that helps mantis shrimps be better killers may help doctors save lives. One more example of biomimicry at its best.

Mantis shrimp stabs a fish Mantis shrimp stabs a fish. (Photo: Roy Caldwell/KQED Science)

Jaymi Heimbuch ( @jaymiheimbuch ) focuses on wildlife conservation and animal news from her home base in San Francisco.