The menacing mantis shrimp | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 04.10.2017
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Angry crustaceans

The menacing mantis shrimp

The peacock mantis shrimp has the most amazing eyes in the animal kingdom and likes to smash things with its tiny yet mighty mitts. But this aggressive creature is also helping scientists to improve cancer detection.

Like a gorgeous assassin, the peacock mantis shrimp is beautiful and deadly. The colorful marine creature lives in the Indo-Pacific and is striking to behold. But it also packs a powerful punch. 

The mantis shrimp is not actually a shrimp but a tiny, belligerent crustacean, known as a stomatopod. Despite its size — it can grow to anywhere between 3 and 18 centimeters — it can split skin to the bone and smash through glass with the two tiny appendages attached to the front of its body. 

These dactyl clubs can strike with the force of 1500 Newtons or 335 pounds. They spring forth from the mantis shrimp's body with such speed that it can vaporize surrounding water molecules. 

Scientists are so impressed by the creature's ability to remain undamaged when it delivers a punch that they are studying it to develop better body armor. Fellow sea creatures are reportedly less impressed.

More from the deep: Bug-eyed colossus

Most complex eyes in animal kingdom

A green and red underwater creature (picture-alliance/WILDLIFE/G. Lacz)

I can see you... in more than glorious technicolor

Perhaps even more impressive are the peacock mantis shrimp's eyes, which are the most complex in the animal kingdom. 

Each eye has 12 light sensitive cells, called cones, meaning they could technically see millions more colors than humans. We, by contrast typically have just three types of cones: red, blue and green, meaning we can see hues of blue, green, bits of yellow and all the colors derived from red. 

The peacock mantis shrimp can see something that no other animal can: circularly polarized light or CPL. This kind of light does not move on a flat plane, but travels in a spiral. Scientists aren't exactly sure why they can detect CPL, but it could be to warn off predators or attract mates. Either way, their eyes are helping in the development of satellites and cancer detection.

To find out more about these amazing creatures, listen to our podcast. 

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