One of the most complex eyes in the animal kingdom can be found in species of stomatopod crustaceans (mantis shrimp), some of which have 12 different photoreceptor types, each sampling a narrow set of wavelengths ranging from deep ultraviolet to far red (300 to 720 nanometers) (1-3). Functionally, this chromatic complexity has presented a mystery (3-5). Why use 12 color channels when three or four are sufficient for fine color discrimination? Behavioral wavelength discrimination tests (Δλ functions) in stomatopods revealed a surprisingly poor performance, ruling out color vision that makes use of the conventional color-opponent coding system (6-8). Instead, our experiments suggest that stomatopods use a previously unknown color vision system based on temporal signaling combined with scanning eye movements, enabling a type of color recognition rather than discrimination.
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