by Matthew Inman of the Oatmeal
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Our eyes contain millions of light sensitive cells, called rods and cones. Rods enable us to see light and motion. Cones enable us to see color. Dogs have two types of color-receptive cones: Green & Blue This enables dogs to see blue, green, and a little bit of yellow. Humans have three types of color-receptive cones: Green, Blue & Red. Our additional red cone enables us to see not only red, but all the colors that are derived from red. Butterflies have FIVE types of color-receptive cones: So in addition to seeing two colors we don't have names for, butterflies can see a massive spectrum of color our brains aren't even capable of processing.
When it comes to color vision, butterflies are almost at the top of the food chain. There is one other animal that has better vision than the butterfly: the mantis shrimp. The mantis shrimp lives in warm, shallow water, and typically grows to be between 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) in length. And this marvelous creature has not two, not three, not five, but SIXTEEN color-receptive cones. The rainbow we see stems from just THREE colors, so try to imagine a mantis' rainbow created from SIXTEEN colors. Where we see a rainbow, the mantis shrimp sees a THERMONUCLEAR BOMB of light and beauty.
Perhaps this is why they're so glorious to look at.
Being a creature who perceives and presents such beauty, one would expect the mantis shrimp to be some kind of undersea holy man, gracefully floating along the sea floor, high-fiving lobsters and blessing babies. Gentlemen! Stop this fighting at once! Your journey must be one of peace and love, not violence. Now kiss each other on the mouth.
This, however, couldn't be further from the truth. The truth is, the mantis shrimp is an undersea nightmare, and one of the most creatively violent animals on earth. It has two raptorial appendages on the front of its body. These accelerate with the same velocity as a gunshot from a twenty-two caliber rifle, and in less than three-thousandths of a second can strike prey with 1,500 Newtons of force. To put this in perspective, if human beings could accelerate our arms at 1/10th that speed, we'd be able to throw a baseball into orbit. Their limbs move so quickly the water around them boils in a process known as supercavitation. When these cavitation bubbles collapse it produces an undersea shockwave that can kill prey even if the mantis shrimp misses its target. The force of these collapsing bubbles also produces temperatures in the range of several thousand Kelvins and emits tiny bursts of light. This effect is called sonoluminescence. These are my murder sticks. There are many like it, but these ones are mine. Using these "murder sticks," dismemberment is primarily how the mantis shrimp kills its prey. It bashes other animals to pieces, smashing apart crabs, mollusks, oysters, and octopi until deliciousness starts squirting out. Aaaaaaad now you're dinner. Their limbs are so resilient, researchers have been studying their cell structure for use in the development of advanced body armor for combat troops.
Aquariums don't typically house mantis shrimps because they tend to slaughter every other creature they share a tank with. Why hello there, Mr. Handsome little seahorse! OneTwoThree DEATH! And also because they can break aquarium glass. Why hello there, Mr. Handsome little ape ... pig ... thing. OneTwoThree DEATH!
This is why the mantis shrimp is my new favorite animal, because in the presence of such extraordinary light and beauty it embraces DARKNESS. It extols DEATH with the luminescent brilliance of a DYING STAR. It is Genghis Khan bathed in sherbet ice cream. The mantis shrimp is the harbinger of blood-soaked rainbows. It is bright. It is dark. And it is beautiful.