A few months ago on Radiolab, we did an hour on color, which included a segment on rainbow watching. We imagined a man, a dog, a sparrow and a butterfly all gazing at the same rainbow and we asked: How many colors does each see?
Dogs See Bleaker Rainbows
We humans see seven. Our dogs, however, see only three. So those glorious bands of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, to a dog become a sad blur of green, blue and a dash of yellow. Dogs see bleaker rainbows. Why? Because we humans have more rods and cones in our eyes than dogs have in theirs. Your rod and cone count predicts how many colors you will see.
Sparrows see even more colors than we do, butterflies still more, which got us wondering: Is there a world champion? Is there an animal that sees more colors than any other creature on Earth?
It turns out, there is. It’s a shrimp.
Not an eagle. Not a falcon. A shrimp. That just doesn’t seem right.
Why would an animal that lives underwater and doesn’t even gaze at the sky, why would it have the best color sense? We never found a good answer to that one, but we stopped caring once we met the shrimp. Mantis shrimps — that’s what they’re called — are staggeringly odd to look at, wonderfully fun to sing about (which we did), but no one, and I mean no one, has loved this shrimp better than Matthew Inman.
Matthew, one of my favorite artist/reporter/storytellers, heard our show and this week on his blog, The Oatmeal, he went all out, producing this rhapsody. It’s an ode to an animal that he freely admits isn’t charming, isn’t nice, isn’t gentle, isn’t even good — which is why it melts his heart.