Mantis Shrimp - the worst model animal but the best animal to model? (#541)
Most model animal systems have certain shared qualities. They may be readily accessible, easy to keep and their biological characteristics may be large and easy to work on. They might be similar to or at least easy to compare with other organisms, such as humans, but with a short life-cycle and easy to rear in the laboratory. Finally, a well understood and manipulable genome and benign and data-rich behavioural repertoire are a plus.
Stomatopods (mantis shrimp) fail on almost all of these criteria so why study them as a ‘model organism’? Their solutions to colour vision and polarisation vision are unique or unconventional and in many ways more like machine vision than biology. Their 20 channel visual system has much to teach us about both data input and data processing with what might be termed a sparse-code solution. Once the researcher notes and respects their violent idiosyncrasies, stomatopods are robust behavioural animals whose visual capabilities continue to deliver surprises. It is therefore their unique design and untapped ‘bag of goodies’ that project stomatopods as one of the must-have model organisms of the future.