Mantis Shrimp Mantis shrimps may help us develop better DVD players The amazing eyes found on the mantis shrimp may inspire a new generation of CD:s and DVD:s, according to a new study from the University of Bristol.

Odontodactylus scyllarus, a species of mantis shrimp living on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, has the most complex vision system known to science and can see in twelve colours as opposed to the human eye which only sees in three. As if this wasn’t enough, Odontodactylus scyllarus can also distinguish between different forms of polarized light.

The eyes of this mantis shrimp are equipped with special light-sensitive cells that work like the quarter-wave plates found in CD and DVD players; they can rotate the plane of the oscillations of a light wave as it travels through. Thanks to this feature, the mantis shrimp is capable of converting linearly polarized light to circularly polarized light and vice versa.

The design and mechanism of the quarter-wave plate in the mantis shrimp’s eye outperforms anything manmade. While the quarter-wave plates found in CD and DVD players tend to work well for one colour of light only, the mantis shrimp can convert light across the whole visible spectrum, i.e. from infra-red to nearly ultra-violet.

What’s particularly exciting is how beautifully simple it is,” said Dr Roberts, lead author of the article. “This natural mechanism, comprised of cell membranes rolled into tubes, completely outperforms synthetic designs. It could help us make better optical devices in the future using liquid crystals that have been chemically engineered to mimic the properties of the cells in the mantis shrimp’s eye.”

How the mantis shrimp benefits from having this ability remains unknown, but polarization vision is sometimes used by animals to secretly communicate within their own species without catching the attention of predators. Also, it might make it easier for the mantis shrimp to see under water, which would come in handy when hunting for prey.

The research was carried out at the University of Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences in the UK in collaboration with researchers at the University of Queensland, Australia and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, USA.

The paper was published in Nature Photonics on October 25.