Mantis shrimp is a marine crustacean that is known to have a vision system that is much more complex than the eyes of many animals living on the ground. As explained here, it has 12 types of photoreceptor cells, can detect a wider frequency range than humans (into UV and infrared regions), and even polarization.

These animals live in dark underwater environments where sunlight cannot reach, so that a vision system would not seem to be useful. Why is this present?

My own thoughts are that even though some types of these creatures live in deep ocean waters, they mostly live in shallow waters where sunlight can reach:

"They occur in coastal waters but are sometimes found as deep as 1,300 meters"

Therefore their vision system is not useless. But what about those species (including but not limited to some types of mantis shrimps) that live in deep dark waters? Is their vision system considered a vestigial feature?

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    $\begingroup$ It's an interesting question, but could you edit to make the title consistent with the question in the body? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 24, 2022 at 4:02
  • $\begingroup$ @ARogueAnt. I edited the title to better match the question. Feel free to edit it! $\endgroup$
    – Mostafa
    Commented Jan 24, 2022 at 5:53
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    $\begingroup$ I have edited your question to reduce it to its essentials. This is “what purpose does this serve?” If you can answer that you know why it evolved. If you can’t, you are in trouble. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Commented Jan 24, 2022 at 21:27
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    $\begingroup$ Its worth noting that mantis shrimp eyesight is much worse than ours in some way, they are far less sensitive to small differences in color while detecting a much wider range of colors. it is also worth asking if deep water mantis shrimp stay in deep water all the time. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Jan 24, 2022 at 23:04

1 Answer 1


You will find quite a lengthy and nice discussion and review of current hypotheses (all with some support) in Porter et al. 2020,PNAS.

To add even more intrigue, parts of the vision system (e.g.: number of photoreceptor genes) seems more complex than needed for the actual performance of the visual system (e.g.: whether certain visual stimuli are detected).


  • Parts of "visual system" do not primarily serve "vision" but something else (e.g.: touch as in some insects)
  • There is an advantage for heterozygous animals
  • There might be some sort of vision-based advantage to be discovered (e.g.: rather than helping to better discriminate seen things in real time, the complexity might serve to integrate visual cues over time)

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