Science Interviews


Mon, 13th Dec 2010

Glowing red fish light up the deep sea

James Maclaine, Natural History Museum

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Stop light loose jaws bright red glow lets them see more that the average deep sea fish.

Stop light loose jawFind out more:

Stop Light Loose Jaw at the Natural History Museum.

James – My name is James Maclaine and I work as a curator at the Natural History Museum in London. And I’ve seen many, many weird and wonderful fish, but one of my favourites is a thing called the stop light loose jaw, which is a deep sea fish and it has some very unusual abilities.

It’s found all round the world in all the main oceans, the Pacific and the Atlantic, and it like many of the fish living at depths like that is capable of producing light. It has two different lights on its head, one behinds its eye and one a bit further back behind its jaw. 

And one of these is blue, which is not unusual, a lot of the fish and other organisms at that depth use blue light because it travels quite far through the water, it travels further than any other kind of light.

But the really unusual thing about the stop light loose jaw is that it also has a read light and it’s one of only three kinds of fish that can do this.

And the unusual thing about it is that hardly anything else can see it, everything’s eyes are tuned to blue light. So the red light that’s produced by the stop light loose jaw is pretty much invisible. So it has its own private wavelength of light. 

And we’re still not totally sure what it uses it for. It could use it like a torch, to sort of, shine ahead of it as it’s swimming around looking for prey. Or it could even use it to communicate with other stop light loose jaws and of course everything else would be oblivious.

The thing I really like about it is just its really fearsome appearance. I can remember as a small boy seeing pictures of deep sea fish the stop light loose jaw in books and just thinking these, maybe huge monsters living in the bottom of the sea and only recently I found out that they’re, you know, pretty tiny compared to a lot of the other things that people know about lie sharks and things – they’re fairly small.

But yeah, they look like nightmarish creatures. They have these big huge fangs and they’re very weird looking. So, I think that’s one of the things that appeals to me about it. And I quite like the mystery of it. Although we can make educated guesses about what it’s doing with its light, we’re not 100% sure and we may never be because it’s very, very hard to go down to that depth and watch these things behaving naturally.

So it could be doing things with it’s lights that we just would never have dreamt of.


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