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What shrimp sees 16 colors?

What shrimp sees 16 colors?

Shrimp have a remarkable ability to see color. Unlike humans who have three color receptors, shrimp have 16 different color receptors. This allows them to see an incredibly broad spectrum of colors that is unimaginable to the human eye.

How Many Color Receptors Do Shrimp Have?

The shrimp eye is made up of thousands of ommatidia, each containing 8 photoreceptor cells. This gives shrimp the ability to perceive 16 primary colors and numerous intermediate shades. The 16 photoreceptors allow shrimp to see ultraviolet, infrared and polarized light in addition to the colors visible to humans.

Humans have just 3 types of color receptors – red, green and blue. All the colors we see are combinations of signals from these 3 receptors. Shrimp have 16 independent color channels, allowing them to distinguish minute differences in color and see colors humans cannot even conceive.

Why Do Shrimp Need To See So Many Colors?

Seeing a broad spectrum of colors is extremely useful for shrimp survival. It helps them:

  • Find food – Shrimp can detect the tiny color differences between nutrient-rich algae and other materials.
  • Avoid predators – Their color vision allows shrimp to see camouflaged predators.
  • Communicate – Shrimp use color patterns to signal other shrimp.
  • Navigate – Shrimp can perceive polarized light, which aids navigation.

Their incredible color vision gives shrimp an evolutionary edge to survive in their environments. The wide array of photoreceptors allows them to excel at finding food and mates as well as avoiding danger.

Animal Number of Color Receptors
Humans 3
Dogs 2
Shrimp 16

How Do We Know Shrimp See So Many Colors?

Scientists have analyzed the shrimp eye in detail to understand its color perception abilities. Some key findings include:

  • Each ommatidium contains 8 photoreceptors, 4 for daylight vision and 4 for low light.
  • Microspectrophotometry reveals each photoreceptor absorbs light from a different part of the spectrum.
  • Behavioral experiments show shrimp can distinguish extremely fine color differences.
  • Staining photoreceptors reveals 16 distinct spectral classes of opsins.

By mapping the absorption spectra of the visual pigments and studying shrimp behavior, scientists have proven shrimp see a rainbow of colors humans can only imagine.

What Colors Can Shrimp See?

With their 16 photoreceptors, shrimp can see an incredible array of colors. This includes:

  • Ultraviolet – Shrimp see in the UV spectrum, which appears as a distinct color.
  • Infrared – Shrimp can detect longer infrared wavelengths invisible to humans.
  • Polarized Light – Special receptors detect light polarization signals.
  • Green – Shrimp have 4 receptors devoted to different shades of green, important for finding algae.
  • Blue and Red – Shrimp have overlapping receptors for blue and red, but more spectral types than humans for finer discrimination.

We can only imagine what the world looks like through a shrimp’s eyes. Their spectral range covers over 300 nm, while humans see just a 180 nm slice. They essentially live in a psychedelic world of colors we can’t conceive.

How Does Shrimp Color Vision Compare to Other Animals?

Very few animals have color vision that rivals the complexity of shrimp. Here’s how it compares:

  • Humans have 3 color receptors (red, green, blue).
  • Dogs have 2 color receptors (yellow, blue).
  • Butterflies have 5 color receptors.
  • Mantis shrimp have an incredible 12 color receptors.
  • Shrimp have 16 different color receptors, the most known in the animal kingdom.

The sophistication of the shrimp eye far exceeds most other animals. It is an evolutionary marvel, providing shrimp with vision of an alien world of color.

Do All Shrimp Have 16-Color Vision?

Most shrimp species studied have been found to have a 16 or 12 channel color vision system. This includes:

  • Black tiger prawn
  • Whiteleg shrimp
  • Harlequin shrimp
  • Cleaner shrimp
  • Peppermint shrimp

However, a few shrimp types seem to have fewer photoreceptor types, such as the snapping shrimp, which has only 6. The extremely broad color sense appears common across most shrimp species though.


With 16 photoreceptor types, shrimp see the world through a kaleidoscopic filter. Their evolutionary investment in such sophisticated color vision points to its importance for shrimp survival. From finding food to communicating, color perception provides key advantages. Scientists have only begun to unlock the secrets of the shrimp eye, but already it is clear their vision stands apart from most other species. Next time you look at a shrimp, remember it is seeing colors you can’t even imagine.