November 17, 2003
Volume 81, Number 46
CENEAR 81 46 p. 14
ISSN 0009-2347


CRITTER CHEMISTRY

Stalwart Shrimp Scares Foes With Fluorescence

ROY L. CALDWELL, © 2003 SCIENCE
SOPHIE ROVNER

Researchers casting about for sea creatures that fluoresce stumbled across the combative mantis shrimp. The task required some unusual working conditions. “The way you search is you swim around in the middle of the night carrying a blue light and wearing a yellow filter over your mask,” says Charles H. Mazel, a researcher at Physical Sciences Inc., a contract R&D firm in Andover, Mass. “The mask blocks the blue so that you can see the fluorescence.”

Mazel and his colleagues unearthed the glowing shrimp—which can grow up to 22 cm long—in the Bahamas. The creature makes its home in sandy substrates, rarely leaving its burrow except to search for a new mate, according to the researchers [Science, published online Nov. 13, http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/1089803v1]. When a male shrimp encounters another male or a potential predator, it rears up and spreads its striking appendages and other threatening assets as shown here. Patches on the creature emit yellow fluorescence when illuminated by blue light. Unlike visual signals based on colored pigments, the fluorescence “transmits well through seawater,” the authors say.

Mazel’s team has not identified the compounds responsible for the shrimp’s glow.

To view a video of one of the shrimp gulping down an unlucky fish.

SCIENCE © 2003



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