Ultra-black nightmarish fish reveal the secrets of ocean camouflage


A deep-sea dragonfish has an ultra-black skin capable of absorbing bioluminescent light. He also has large teeth. Karen Osborn, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Goths know that black is cool. Some scary fish swimming in the depths of the ocean know this too.

A team of researchers uncovers the deep and dark secrets of blacker than black fish that have developed special skin characteristics to help them hide from predators who use bioluminescence to hunt.

The researchers, including lead author Alexander Davis, a doctoral student in biology at Duke University, published a study on ultra-black fish in the journal Current Biology (PDF) on Thursday. They identified at least 16 species of fish living in deep waters with skin that absorbs more than 99.5% percent of light. It is the ultimate camouflage for the ink depths of the ocean.

As the names suggest, dragonfish and fangs toothed fish are not the most cuddly critters in the sea. They may seem nightmarish to disgust humans, but they are of great interest to scientists seeking ways to develop new ultra-black materials.

Vantablack is the most famous of ultra-black coatings. It was designed for defense and space applications, but has also appeared in architecture and art. It is not the only one of its kind. MIT Announced New “Blackest Black” Material in 2019.

The ocean research team used a spectrometer to measure the light reflected from the skin of fish plucked from Monterey Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. These deep dwellers live up to a mile below the surface of the ocean.

“The darkest species they found, a tiny monkfish not much longer than a golf tee, absorbs so much light that almost none – 0.04% – bounce in the eyes,” said l ‘Duke University in a statement Thursday.

Scientists have discovered differences between black fish and ultra-black fish by focusing on the melanosomes, structures within cells that contain the pigment melanin.

“Other cold-blooded animals with normal black skin have tiny pearl-shaped melanosomes, while ultra-blacks are larger, more tick-shaped,” noted Duke. The ultra-black structures are also tighter. Computer modeling has revealed that these melanosomes “have the optimal geometry to swallow light”.

This ultra-black fish is an Anoplogaster cornuta. He was released into the ocean after being studied.

Karen Osborn, Smithsonian

According to study co-author Karen Osborn, “Imitating this strategy could help engineers develop cheaper, flexible and more durable ultra-black materials for use in optical technology, such as telescopes and cameras, and for camouflage. Osborn is a research zoologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Studying the skin of fish adds to our understanding of how these unusual animals function in their dark world. To 2019 study found that some deep-sea fish see color.

The ultra-black fish presented some challenges for scientists when it came to photos. “No matter how you configure the camera or the lighting – they just sucked in all the light,” said Osborn.

Fortunately for your nightmares, Osborn has captured surprisingly jagged views of an ultra-black dragonfish from the depths and an Anoplogaster cornuta. Be sure to spot Bauhaus music and look deep into their milky eyes.


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