The Most Complex Eye In Nature


Recently we took a look at the animal with one of the most incredible strikes in nature, the mantis shrimp. As it so happens, this little aquatic creature is also home to the most complicated eye in the animal kingdom (Kilday). It’s incredible. Let’s take a look.

The Structure. The mantis shrimp’s eyes are mounted on stalk-like parts. Each eye can twist, rotate, swivel, and adjust in nearly any way needed to get the proper angle. Each eye does this independently of the other. The eye itself is made up of 3 sections. The top and bottom sections of the eye help the mantis shrimp see form, motion, and depth. In humans, we need two eyes to properly perceive depth. Each eye of the mantis shrimp perceives depth individually, even in different directions. The middle section of the eye is particularly amazing. This middle band is comprised of 6 rows of photoreceptor cell clusters (called ommatidia). To put it simply, each ommatidium functions somewhat like an individual eye. It detects visual information and sends it to the brain. The mantis shrimp has about 10,000 of these in each eye, and every row of ommatidia is specialized to see unique parts of light, which we will detail here in a minute.

The Vision. In our eyes, our photoreceptors only allow us to see 3 main colors: red, green, and blue. Just seeing these and their combinations makes for a stunning view. While we see 3, the mantis shrimp has the ability to see 16. In the middle band of the eye, each of the 6 rows of ommatidia see something different. Rows 1-4 see many varieties of color and light, including everything from ultraviolet light to infrared. Each of these 4 rows is uniquely designed to detect certain parts of light in the spectrum. Rows 5-6 see something known and polarized light and circularly polarized light. To help explain this, think about what our “polarized sunglasses” do. They are designed to filter out light and take the bright glare off of something. In a sense, our eyes constantly have a filter out, or at least don’t have the ability to see, polarized light. The mantis shrimp can see all of this light. Seeing polarized light adds a whole other complicated dimension to their sight (Harmon). In order to see somewhat like them, we would have to wear three sets of specialized sunglasses (Kilday). So far the mantis shrimp is the only known animal with the ability to detect such an incredibly wide spectrum.

The Process. When the mantis shrimp is looking at an image, everything it is looking at must be sent to the brain, obviously. However, the parts of the eye that detect color are sent through one set of nerves to one part of the brain. The ones that detect ultraviolet light are sent through a completely different set of nerves to a different part of the brain. It is able to process all of this together without a problem.

The Uses. To put it simply, scientists don’t have a clue. Is it for courtship? Maybe. It is for some sort of advanced communication that can’t be seen by predators? Possibly. The bottom line is, beyond the fact that it has incredible eyesight, we just don’t know what it uses its sight for.

Obviously, the mantis shrimp is using its one-of-a-kind eyes for something, but it’s interesting that we can’t point to a clear use. This is particularly a problem for evolution. While introducing the mantis shrimp, National Geographic made this ironic statement, “Eyes are testaments to evolution’s creativity…there are eyes that are so alien, so constantly surprising, that after decades of research, scientists have only just about figured out how they work, let alone why they evolved that way…” (National Geographic).

If an eye like the mantis shrimp’s is so complicated and so hard to explain its purpose, then how can we possibly attribute it to evolution? Not to mention, why is credit being given to evolution’s “creativity?” Is evolution alive? Is evolution thinking? Is evolution actually capable of being creative? Evolution is being personified as if it is a thinking deity of some sort. However, unlike the true Creator, evolution leaves a chaotic trail of unanswered questions. For example, the mantis shrimp supposedly evolved about 300 million years ago, more than 275 million years before humans supposedly evolved). So then why don’t many other animals, particularly humans, have these visual abilities? Or why not an even greater visual prowess since we had “300 million years” to improve it?

The answer is simple. God is responsible for all creation, including the mantis shrimp, not evolution. The Lord specifically designed this creature with all of its amazing features and abilities. Perhaps He created it so we would be discussing this very point. He has surrounded us with a universe teeming with evidence of His power and existence. Why? Because one day we will all stand before the Lord at the judgment day and answer for what we have done (2 Corinthians 5:10). God has given us evidence so we would come to the right conclusion about Him (Romans 1:20), and, hopefully, to obey Him (2 Peter 3:9; Acts 2:38).

Works Citied:

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