Marine biologists have discovered at least 16 species of fish with a remarkable ability to hide in plain sight living in their natural environments. The discovery was made by marine biologist Karen Osborn back in 2020, when she got her hands on a fangtooth, a deep-sea fish that absorbs 99.9 percent of the light that hits it.
The science and other stuff to know
Osborn was on a routine study with her team when they roped in the fish, but it was only a chance that she discovered its astounding ability, Wired reported. While photographing the fish, the biologist could only manage to capture obscure silhouettes. It only occurred to her later that it wasn’t due to her poor camera skills but rather the fish’s talents that kept absorbing light from the camera and returning ambiguous results.
The 16 species of deep-sea fish have evolved an unmatched ability to become one with their environment thanks to an aggregation of melanin. The fish have skins brimming with a layer of organelles called melanosomes, which are overflowing with melanin. The light that does escape these organelles is absorbed by neighboring pigments performing a similar light-trapping duty.
While one might be tempted to believe fish’s ability is overkill given the ocean floor is as dark as it gets, that wouldn’t be true at all. The deep sea is in fact lit by biological light – bioluminescence produced by creatures, from bacteria to fish to squid. So the camouflage does serve a purpose and is, in fact, a necessity.
The light absorption is an important lesson in how life forms develop techniques to ensure their survival. The deep sea has rather a limited availability of dinner items for predators, and a failed attempt to procure a meal could be the difference between being a predator and becoming a prey yourself.
Scientists believe the fish have developed the ability to become super-efficient in their hunt. Moreover, the mouths of these fish, including the fangtooth, elaborate the purpose of their existence. With a body attached to the jaws instead of being the other way around, these fish are made to snap, get hold of anything they can, and just not let go. And that’s how you survive the deep ocean!
The discovery of this black hole-ish ability to absorb light could lead to major advancements in a variety of fields. Coatings like Vantablack that work on a similar principle of absorbing light have already found usage in the aerospace and defense sectors. With further studies, scientists might be able to mimic the technology and come up with light-absorbing materials in different shades of the color spectrum. Their use could be extended to improve applications like insulation and might even come in handy for energy generation through sunlight.
No one can exactly predict what this discovery would lead to, but one thing is for sure; it once again demonstrates how little we still know about nature and many of its hidden gems.