A colorful world: Signaling in mantis shrimp

Tufts University
DOI: 10.18258/0144
Funded on 9/15/13
Successfully Funded
  • $4,076
  • 107%
  • Funded
    on 9/15/13

About This Project

Mantis shrimp have the most complex vision in the animal kingdom. Most research focuses on how mantis shrimp see what they see, not why. This research aims to discover how their vision is used for signalling and communication between mantis shrimp.

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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.


  • $1,790Travel for 2
  • $1,730Bench fees for two
  • $270Other fees (e.g.permits)

It is important that I perform my experiments in the field to ensure that the mantis shrimps' behaviors are natural. The species of mantis shrimp that have spectacular vision are only found in tropical waters. Thus, to study their communication, my colleague and I will travel to Belize and set up experiments in the field.

Belize is an ideal location for this project because I have already performed preliminary studies there. This means I know how and where to find my study species and, have knowledge of the field site that will be essential for setting up experiments.

The funding requested for this project will be used to cover return travel for my colleague and I to the Smithsonian Field Station in Belize.The remainder of the requested funds will cover bench fees and research permit fees required for two to work at the field station. This field station provides excellent facilities and equipment for our use.

Stretch goal - $4,540: I am very excited that we have reached the target and it is fantastic to see some extra donations coming it. So I wanted to set a stretch goal and let everyone know the extra money will be put to good use.

Along with the fieldwork component in Belize, I will be doing research in the lab at university. To do this, I need to set up an aquarium system to house mantis shrimp. I currently require 5 aquarium set ups (each costs $120), and 20 shrimp ($150 including shipping). This is a total of $750, and the extra funds will go towards this. Please check out the lab notes to find out about the lab experiments!

Meet the Team

Amanda Franklin
Amanda Franklin
PhD Student


University of Melbourne, Australia BSc, 2008
University of Melbourne, Australia MSc, 2011
Tufts University, USA, PhD, Present


I’ve always loved the ocean, and learning about marine science during my undergraduate degree only strengthened this attraction. Since then, I have sought out any opportunity to work in marine science. This has included working in marine departments at Parks Victoria, Museum Victoria and 3CR (community radio) as well as completing a Masters in marine science and animal behavior.

I began my Masters degree in 2010 at the University of Melbourne. Here I designed a research project to investigate costs of mating in the Southern dumpling squid. I discovered that mating is energetically costly and a single mating can reduce female lifespan. This project prepared me for my PhD as it was a behavioral study that involved fieldwork and lab work.

Currently, I am a Fulbright Science and Technology fellow completing my PhD at Tufts University. For my dissertation, I will be researching communication and reproductive behaviors in mantis shrimp. I intend to research this in multiple species of mantis shrimp and investigate different facets of visual communication (e.g. visible light, UV light, polarized light).

For more information, please look at my LinkedIn Profile.

Additional Information

Missed some of the mantis shrimp craze? Check these out:

The Oatmeal: Why the mantis shrimp is my new favorite animal

True Facts About the Mantis Shrimp [Video]