Deep-Sea Starfish Have Been Found To Glow

Tremaster mirablis found at depths 600 meters below the surface. Photo via Olga Zimina

Animals that live in places of the world where there is perpetual darkness have to adapt to a different life and that typically results in some amazing functions rarely seen.

In a report published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers have recently examined 13 species of Arctic starfish that live hundreds of meters below the surface and have discovered that all but one retained the use of its eyes.

Starfish vision is based on ommatidia, small individual units that make up a compound eye. These eyes are located at the end of each arm and they tend to be very similar between different species. Starfish use them to know where they are going although their main sense is smell.

With the starfish having the ability to see, the researchers decided to test the animals for bioluminescence. The thought was that if the starfish could glow, that would explain the use of eyes in perpetual darkness.

The researchers found that two of the 13 species had the ability to emit bioluminescence light and to no surprise, these two species had the most advanced visual organs.

The starfish, its eye and a zoomed in view, highlighting the ommatidia. M.H. Birk et al./Proceedings of the Royal Society B, supplementary material

The research shows the amazing adaptability of sea life in the harshest conditions and urges scientist to continue to study animal life in places that we once believed was impossible for life to survive. By studying these species, we can learn a lot on how to better protect sea life in around the world.

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