Are We All Colorblind?

Most people think that humans have superior vision when it comes to seeing colors, but there are 13 colors we cannot even fathom.

Sep 27, 2020 · 5 min read
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Mantis Shrimp (Picture Credit: RareAnimals)

Are humans far superior to other animals? We can walk, we can swim, and through the power of our minds and technology, we can even fly. Even if we haven’t been around for as long as other animals, we are the only creatures with advanced tools and technology. It has come to the point where we have so much power that we can destroy landscapes we don’t like and create our own environments like the concrete shelters we call cities.

But even with all of our technology, even with all of the advances we have made in science, medicine, and technology, there is one limitation we never imagined. We are colorblind.

Most of us can see the reds, greens, and blues in our world. We can see the vibrant colors of life all around us! But can you see 16 primary colors? I will give you a second to look around; think about this: how many primary colors can you see? If you are diagnosed as ‘color blind’ you can only see 2, maybe even 1 primary color while the average person can see 3. What about the weird rainbow shrimp you saw at the beginning of the article? Well, that weird but colorful shrimp can see 12–16 different primary colors! Meet the Mantis Shrimp, which is better known for its fighting abilities but possesses a unique ability even humans don’t have.

The Mantis Shrimp

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The king of colors, the Mantis Shrimp (Picture Credit: Great Barrier Reef Foundation)

This fascinating creature has several unique features, with one of the more well-known ones being its punch. This animal has existed on our planet for more than 400 million years, with more than 450 different species of Mantis Shrimp, and they are all equally fascinating. The Mantis Shrimp family is, to put it quite frankly, shrimpy. This creature is on average 10 cm long but can sometimes grow to be 30 cm. They’re carnivorous creatures with a typical diet consisting of worms, squid, fish, and small crustaceans.

The Mantis Shrimp’s method of hunting varies from spearing to smashing, depending on the species. The Mantis Shrimp’s arms are naturally spring-loaded, which means their punch exerts 23 m/s or 1,500 newtons of force. Put simply, that is the same force as getting shot directly by a .22 caliber bullet! This force allows it to decimate the shells of its prey. This punch is so powerful that the force creates high friction in the water and boils the surrounding water! And if you thought removing its clubs would hinder it, you would be wrong because they can grow back.

Watch a Mantis Shrimp punch (Video Credit: Physics Girl)

The King and Queens of Color

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Mantis Shrimp’s eyes (Picture Credit: Love Nature)

The eyes of a Mantis Shrimp are truly fascinating. Humans have a total of 3 color receptors, which perceive red, blue, and green. These colors make up everything we can see, from the room you’re sitting in to the vast, blue sky. Beyond this visual spectrum of colors lies the ultraviolet spectrum. This type of light is invisible to most animals, except for a couple of species here and there.

The Mantis Shrimp, however, can see not only the classic red, green, and blue, but also ultraviolet light and 12–16 other colors, depending on the species. The range of colors for the Mantis Shrimp was discovered when scientist examined their eyes. They have 12–16 color receptors, which allow them to see colors we can’t.

This not only makes me feel color blind, but it makes me curious. Imagine a world completely different from what you know. The yellow could be a color you’ve never seen. I, with my simple human brain, can’t imagine a true reality that my eyes can’t perceive. For all we know, fan-favorite colors like purple and orange could really be lurple and grenagle (made up color names by yours truly). There are 16 colors that we cannot see, and if that wasn’t enough to bring you down to earth and make you feel inferior, what I say next will.

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Visible light spectrum (Picture Credit: Pinterest)

The eyes, in addition to seeing many unimaginable colors, can also see cancer and neuron activity. This sounds crazy, I know. However, a publication by researchers from the University of Queensland shows that the compound eyes in a Mantis Shrimp can see light that is reflected off cancer cells. This is because cancer tissue and neurons reflect polarized light. Mantis Shrimp can see this light thanks to a unique reflector of polarized light in their eyes that has never been replicated into human technology. These types of eyes allow for them to be small while seeing bright colorful polarized activity.

If this technology were to be replicated, it could provide breakthroughs in early cancer and neurological disease diagnoses. Considering that most neurological diseases don’t have cures and end up becoming chronic, this type of technology could save and help so many people.

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The future is in our hands (Picture Credit: Site Selection Magazine)

Humans may be advanced, but there is no denying the fact that some animals are naturally adapted with unimaginable features. This may seem sad in ways, knowing as you sit on your deathbed that there are many colors you haven’t seen and many sights which never saw truly.

But the unimaginable is only this way until it is imagined. The Mantis Shrimp is a truly fascinating creature and is very different from other animals. Humans may not see as perfectly as we wish, but humans couldn’t fly before, but look where we are now. It’s only a matter of time until we truly see the world in all of its glory, so keep dreaming and imagining because you can change the world.


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