University of Queensland scientists have provided new insights into how thetiny brains of mantis shrimp are able to make sense of a breathtaking amountof visual input.

The study may help researchers better understand the evolution of colourvision in the animal kingdom.

UQ Queensland Brain Institute’s Professor Justin Marshall said mantis shrimphave the most complex visual system of any living animal.

“Mantis shrimp have four times as many colour receptors as we humans do: wehave three – red, green, and blue – and they have 12,” Professor Marshallsaid.

“They sample light we can’t see and they also sample light we do see in acompletely different way, and as a result, mantis shrimp have much more visualinformation coming in than we do.

“So the question is, why don’t their tiny brains explode?”

The researchers have shed new light on how the tiny crustaceans process andremember visual information by mapping a region of the mantis shrimp brain.

Professor Marshall said the answer appeared to lie in the reniform body, aregion of the crustacean’s brain found in each of the eye stalks that supportits two protruding eyes.

“Because of its position, it has long been thought to act as a processingcentre for any visual information passing from the eye to the brain.”

To find out more, Professor Marshall and Dr Hanne Thoen at QBI teamed up withProfessor Nicholas Strausfeld at the University of Arizona, as well asscientists from Lund University in Sweden and the University of Washington inthe US.

“Using a variety of imaging techniques, we traced connections made by neuronsin the reniform body and discovered that it contains a number of distinct,interacting subsections,” Dr Thoen said.

“They have the world’s most complex retina, so it’s not surprising, butcomforting to find out they have a complex centre to deal with that input.

“Mantis shrimp most likely use these subsections to process different types ofcolour information coming in, and organise it in a way that makes sense to therest of the brain.

“This would enable them to interpret a staggering amount of visual informationvery quickly.”

The researchers said they were intrigued to discover a neural connectionbetween the reniform body and a brain region known to be involved with memory.

This connection may allow mantis shrimp to store visual memories.

“It most likely enables them to remember something that’s good to eat orsomething else they should run away from,” Dr Thoen said.

“It will be fascinating to now take the study forward and figure out how allthe subunits of the reniform body work together to do whatever it is theseanimals need to make sense of their world.”

The study is published in the Journal of Comparative Neurology(

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