Fish that Glow Underwater

Thursday, January 23, 2014

John Sparks, curator in the American Museum of Natural History’s Department of Ichthyology, and David Gruber, associate professor of biology at Baruch College and a research associate at the AMNH, discuss a recent study that found widespread biofluorescence in fishes, identifying more than 180 species that glow in a wide range of colors and patterns. Published in PLOS ONE, the  report looks at why so many marine species emit light. They'll talk about how the research may lead to the discovery of new fluorescent proteins that could be used in biomedical research.

© American Museum of Natural History/American Museum of Natural History
Researchers discovered a rich diversity of fluorescent patterns and colors in marine fishes, as exemplified here.

A). swell shark (Cephaloscyllium ventriosum); B). ray (Urobatis jamaicensis); C). sole (Soleichthys heterorhinos); D). flathead (Cociella hutchinsi); E). lizardfish (Saurida gracilis); F). frogfish (Antennarius maculatus); G). stonefish (Synanceia verrucosa); H). false moray eel (Kaupichthys brachychirus); I). Chlopsidae (Kaupichthys nuchalis); J). pipefish (Corythoichthys haematopterus); K). sand stargazer (Gillellus uranidea); L). goby (Eviota sp.); M). Gobiidae (Eviota atriventris); N). surgeonfish (Acanthurus coeruleus, larval); O). threadfin bream (Scolopsis bilineata).

©American Museum of Natural History/J. Sparks and D. Gruber/American Museum of Natural History
A triplefin blennie (Enneapterygius sp.) under white light (above) and blue light (below).
© American Museum of Natural History/J. Sparks, D. Gruber, and V. Pieribone/American Museum of Natural History
A green biofluorescent chain catshark (Scyliorhinus retifer)


David Gruber and John Sparks

Comments [8]

Steffen Beyer

You might also enjoy watching my video (it has the most views of all videos about underwater fluorescence on the Internet, except for a video from the BBC starring Philippe Cousteau Jr.):

Feb. 14 2014 09:23 AM
Steffen Beyer

@Cory from Manhattan: No, not ALL fish are fluorescent (not even in the tropics!), but as the article shows, much more than previously thought.

I do not know anything about fluorescent freshwater FISH, but I know that there are olms and shrimp in a (freshwater) cave (Kompolje Cave or Kompoljska jama) in Slovenia (,_Dobrepolje) which are fluorescent:

Feb. 14 2014 09:17 AM
Steffen Beyer

See also "Red fluorescence in reef fish: A novel signalling mechanism?" ( and video supplement #1 (, video supplement #2 (

Feb. 14 2014 09:07 AM
Steffen Beyer

See also (Glow in the Dark Moray) by Kjeld Friis (Sea Dancer Dive Center in Dahab/Egypt).

Feb. 14 2014 09:02 AM
Orla from NYC

'thought Leonard said Grouper and Sparks discovered these fluorescent fish. Even with Sparks alone, I'm surprised Leonard could resist the pun!

Jan. 23 2014 01:43 PM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

Perhaps the red & green-emitting fish can be harnessed to replace traffic lights!

Jan. 23 2014 01:31 PM
art525 from Park Slope

I spend my summers on a tiny island in Maine. A few years ago we had the most amazing experience. It was the Fourth of July. Everyone set off their amateur fireworks on the beach. Afterwards when we were heading home we saw the meadow just covered with flashing fireflies. We stopped to admire the scene when a friend came by and said "You think that's something go down to the beach". We walked over and saw a friend rowing his skiff up to the beach. As the oars split the water they left a trail of glowing blue light. Underneath the skiff there was a blue glow. It looked like neon. (A few years ago guys put neon lights under their cars. It looked like that. Wherever the water hit the rocks on the shore there would be a glow. We started throwing rocks in the water and the splash wold shoot up into the sky in the same blue glow of bioluminescence. Dazzling. We were compelled to go see the show of Bioluminescense at the Museum after our experience which will linger with me forever.

Jan. 23 2014 01:30 PM
Cory from Manhattan

Does this occur in any fish we would find in the NY area? Is it only saltwater fish? What about fresh water fish?

Jan. 23 2014 01:28 PM

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