See the World as a Shrimp Views It

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Photo: Seeing a shrimp with polarization vision, where each color represents a different polarization angle.

Have you ever wondered how other animals view the world? A team of researchers from the University of Bristol has created a specialized camera that allows us to see things as reef-dwelling animals do.

Project leader Shelby Temple, a researcher at Bristol's Department of Biological Sciences, will take his colleagues to the Lizard Island Research Station off the coast of Queensland to capture images of the Great Barrier Reef and how critters there visually experience their environment.

The image above of a shrimp is a preview. The image represents polarized light, an aspect of light that we humans are essentially blind to. Although we aren't sensitive to polarized light, many reef dwelling animals can fully detect it.

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"Many reef-dwelling animals, like octopus, crabs, shrimp and maybe even some fish, are sensitive to polarized light," Temple was quoted as saying in a press release. "It’s hard for us to understand what that means because we really can't see the polarization of light without some kind of aid, like polarized glasses or specialized polarization converting cameras like this one."

The camera works like this: It first measures the levels of polarization. It next converts these polarization images into false color images, where different colors are used to represent different polarizations of light.

"It's a bit like using an infrared camera that turns the infrared light we can't see into colors that we can," Temple explained.

Preliminary results from the research suggest that the polarization dimension of the visual world underwater is much more complex than previously thought.

"There's evidence that all types of communication and camouflage are going on, which we've essentially been blind to — until now," he said. "Imagine how different our understanding of coral reefs would be if we only saw in black and white."

"Lizard Island is an ideal setting for our research because we can test an animal and when we return it to its home we can then measure the polarization signals in the very environment where we found it."

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One such denizen is the octopus. I love this photo, snapped by Temple. It looks like the octopus is smiling for the camera.

And here are the researchers at work:

Credit for all images: Shelby Temple