Glowing Fishes Are More Widespread Than Previously Thought

Posted: Jun 9 2016, 4:08am CDT | by , Updated: Jun 9 2016, 11:02pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News


Glowing Fishes are More Widespread than Previously Thought
Silver Hatchetfish (Argyropelecus). Credit: Leo Smith

Fish that can produce their own light evolved over and over again.

Researchers have recently uncovered an illuminating fact. They believe there are more glowing fishes existing in oceans than previously thought. 

Glowing fishes use bioluminescence to produce their own glow. The bioluminescence helps them detect their prey, hide them from own predators and also enables them to communicate with the members of the same community.

Prior to this study, researchers believed that the phenomenon is limited to just few fishes. But now they estimate that around 1,500 fish species are bioluminescent today having a unique ability to glow in the dark, murky waters of the oceans. 

“Bioluminescence is a way of signaling between fishes, the same way that people might dance or wear bright colors at a nightclub,” said coauthor Leo Smith from University of Kansas.

“When things evolve independently multiples times, we can infer that the feature is useful. You have this whole habitat where everything that’s not living at the top or the bottom of the ocean or along the edges – nearly every vertebrate living in the open water – around 80 percent of those fish species are bioluminescent. So this tells us bioluminescence is almost a requirement for fishes to be successful.”

The evolutionary history of glowing fishes can be traced back to Cretaceous period, some 150 million years ago, when dinosaurs were spreading over the land. Furthermore, all the glowing in fish species shared the same ancestor as they diverged from a single evolutionary lineage of fish.

To reach that conclusion, researchers build a family of ray-finned fish which consists of 99% of all fish species and found that fishes independently evolved ability to produce their own light at least 29 times, which was previously estimated just 40 times in the entire tree of life of fishes. And they evolved their glow in a variety of ways.  Some generated it through the chemical reactions within their own cells while other formed partnerships with glowing bacteria to create the glow.

“Bioluminescence is so bizarre, for it just to evolve once is amazing. But to show that it’s evolved all these times independently just among marine fishes is almost shocking.” John Sparks, curator from American Museum of Natural History, New York told Live Science.   

Despite the obvious diversity of bioluminescent fish, researchers are not sure what exactly cause them to evolve their bioluminescence in different ways and also allows them to use it in different ways. Researchers are aiming to conduct further researches in order to find the answers of these questions. 

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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