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New study finds 180 never before seen biofluorescent fish species

John Sparks, a curator at the American Museum of Natural History's Department of Ichthyology, and David Gruber, an associate professor of biology at Baruch College and a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History, reported the discovery of 180 species of fish that demonstrate never before seen biofluorescence in the Jan. 8, 2014, issue of the journal Public Library of Science.

Researchers discovered a rich diversity of fluorescent patterns and colors in marine fishes.
Researchers discovered a rich diversity of fluorescent patterns and colors in marine fishes.
©AMNH Used with permission.

The waters of the world’s oceans filter the spectrum of sunlight so that most of the light that reaches any depth in the water is blue. The researchers found that a large number of bony fish and cartilaginous fish have proteins that turn the blue light into red, orange, and neon green light. The light may play a role in identification of predators, mating, and schooling.

The researchers found that a large number of the animals that populate coral reefs and coastal waters have a yellow light filter in their eye. This filter allows the fish to see the biofluorescent fish.

The researchers simulated the blue light environment in laboratory conditions and were able to observe the biofluorescent fish. The scientists also simulated the blue light from sunlight under water at night and were able to see the biofluorescent fish display by wearing yellow light head visors.

The exact chemistry that produces the biofluorescence in fish is not known but the researchers propose that the chemicals may be useful in human disease identification and targeted treatment.