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Early development of bioluminescence suggests camouflage by counter-illumination in the velvet belly lantern shark Etmopterus spinax (Squaloidea: Etmopteridae)

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The development of luminous structures and the acquisition of luminescence competence during the ontogeny of the velvet belly lantern shark Etmopterus spinax, a deep-sea squalid species, were investigated. The sequential appearance of nine different luminous zones during shark embryogenesis were established, and a new terminology for them given. These zones form the complex luminous pattern observed in free-swimming animals. The organogenesis of photophores (photogenic organs) from the different luminous zones was followed, and photophore maturation was marked by the appearance of green fluorescent vesicles inside the photocytes (photogenic cells). Peroxide-induced light emissions as well as spontaneous luminescence analysis indicated that the ability of E. spinax to produce light was linked to the presence of these fluorescent vesicles and occured prior to birth. The size of photogenic organs, as well as the percentage of ventral body surface area occupied by the luminous pattern and covered by photophores increased sharply during embryogenesis but remained relatively stable in free-swimming animals. All these results strongly suggest camouflage by counter-illumination in juvenile E. spinax.

Keywords: Etmopterus spinax; bioluminescence; counter-illumination; development; photophore; shark

Document Type: Regular Paper


Affiliations: Laboratory of Marine Biology, Biodiversity Research Centre (BDIV), Department of Biology, Catholic University of Louvain (UCL), Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium

Publication date: 2008-10-01

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