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What is the context of this research?
The world viewed through the eyes of a different species would be a very different place. Butterflies can see UV, octopuses can see polarized light and pigeons have five color pigments (humans have three). However, that is nothing compared to mantis shrimp. They have up to 16 color pigments, can see UV, human visible and polarized light and can perceive depth with only a single eye. Mantis shrimp have spectacular vision!
So, what is a mantis shrimp? Mantis shrimps are crustaceans (like crabs, shrimps & lobsters) found around the world, mostly in tropical waters. There are many different species that range in size (from 1cm to about 30cm) and color (more colors than you can imagine). You can find them in holes in coral or rock, or in burrows in the seafloor. They’re famous for possessing the fastest ‘punch’ in the world and can be recognized by their enlarged hunting arm known as the raptorial appendage.
While the visual system of a mantis shrimp is second to none, we are still not sure what mantis shrimp use this amazing vision for. One idea is that it provides them with a secret communication system. Mantis shrimp have many colorful patches on their body which they flash to each other during social interactions. However, whether these colored patches actually convey information to other individuals is poorly researched. I have conducted pilot studies on Neogonodactylus oerstedii, a common mantis shrimp on Belizean coral reefs, and have been able to manipulate various aspects of their color signals. In this study, I will determine what aspects of the signal are important for communication and will conduct behavioral experiments to see what the signal is used for (e.g. to convey aggressiveness/attractiveness).
What is the significance of this project?
A colorful shrimp with the most complex visual system in the animal kingdom deserves our attention! However, we know very little about their communication methods and how they use their incredible eyesight. Even though mantis shrimp are popular as aquarium pets (despite the rumors that they can break glass), how they interact and behave in the wild is poorly understood. To help fill this knowledge gap and ensure my results are relevant, I will perform my experiments in the wild. Furthermore, this research will help us understand how mantis shrimp use color as a signal and the intricacies of signaling in the marine environment.
What are the goals of the project?
This research will be performed in Belize where I have performed preliminary research. It is essential to perform this research in Belize because the mantis shrimp I work with are tropical and it is very important to keep the lighting natural.
My colleague and I will be based at the Smithsonian field station and will perform all research on the Belizean barrier reef. We will use the funds raised through Microryza to cover return travel to the station as well as bench fees and research permits. If any extra funds are raised, they will go towards field equipment such as netting to create underwater enclosures.
If you donate to this project, you will receive regular updates on the project’s progress before and after the fieldwork, and daily updates during the field trip. I will be posting pictures and videos of the research, as well as discussing any cool discoveries.