Biological sunscreens tune polychromatic ultraviolet vision in mantis shrimp

Curr Biol. 2014 Jul 21;24(14):1636-1642. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.05.071. Epub 2014 Jul 3.


Stomatopod crustaceans, or mantis shrimp, are renowned for their complex visual systems. Their array of 16 types of photoreceptors provides complex color reception, as well as linear and circular polarization sensitivity [1-6]. The least-understood components of their retina are the UV receptors, of which there are up to six distinct, narrowly tuned spectral types [4]. Here we show that in the stomatopod species Neogonodactylus oerstedii, this set of receptors is based on only two visual pigments. Surprisingly, five of the six UV receptor types contain the same visual pigment. The various UV receptors are spectrally tuned by a novel set of four short- and long-pass UV-specific optical filters in the overlying crystalline cones. These filters are composed of various mycosporine-like amino acid (MAA) pigments. Commonly referred to as "nature's sunscreens," MAAs are usually employed for UV photoprotection [7, 8], but mantis shrimp uniquely incorporate them into powerful spectral tuning filters, extending and diversifying their preeminently elaborate photoreceptive arsenal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids
  • Animals
  • Decapoda / physiology*
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Invertebrate / physiology*
  • Retinal Pigments / physiology*
  • Ultraviolet Rays*
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*


  • Amino Acids
  • Retinal Pigments