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Researchers discover deep sea creatures that suck up light like a black hole


The discovery started as a bad photo op:

A team of marine biologists have discovered 16 new species of terrifying deep-sea fish that reflect almost no light at all, Wired reports — much like the ultra-black material Vantablack.

Marine biologist Karen Osborn was astonished when she attempted to take pictures of a fangtooth, a terrifying fanged monster of the deep sea, for cataloguing reasons. The fish appeared to absorb almost all of the light her underwater studio shone at it, leaving only eerie silhouettes …

Some of the newly discovered species are so dark that they absorb 99.956 percent of light that hits it. For context, last year MIT engineers claimed they accidentally created the darkest material that absorbs 99.995 percent of incoming light — 10 times darker than Vantablack, an extremely dark and difficult to produce carbon nanotube material designed by British nanotech company Surrey Nanosystems. Victor Tangermann, “Scientists Discover “Vantablack” Deep-Sea Creatures” at Futurism


Deep sea oceans are actually much brighter than you might think. There may be little or no natural light penetrating hundreds of meters of ocean water, but bioluminescent creatures and bacteria produce plenty of light all by themselves.

At the same time, light produced by these organisms tends to draw the attention of prey, suggesting the ultra-black fish may be camouflaging themselves to stop them from being detected as they stalk their prey — or hide from other predators.

Victor Tangermann, “Scientists Discover “Vantablack” Deep-Sea Creatures” at Futurism

More from Wired:

This wasn’t her first photo shoot with a deep-sea fish, so it couldn’t be operator error. But wait a second, Osborn figured. “I had tried to take pictures of deep-sea fish before and got nothing but these really horrible pictures, where you can’t see any detail,” she says. “How is it that I can shine two strobe lights at them and all that light just disappears?”

It disappears because the fangtooth, along with 15 other species that Osborn and her colleagues have found so far, camouflage themselves with “ultra-black” skin, the deep-sea version of Vantablack, the famous human-made material that absorbs almost all the light you shine at it. These fish have evolved a different and devilishly clever way of going ultra-black with incredible efficiency: One species the researchers found absorbs 99.956 percent of the light that hits it, making it nearly as black as Vanta black. Matt Simon, “Vantablack? Meh. Meet the Ultra-Black Vantafish” at Wired

Apparently, it’s convergent evolution:

Incredibly, there wasn’t one common ancestor of these 16 Vantafish species—or at least the 16 that Osborn and Davis have discovered so far—that evolved this trick and passed it along to its evolutionary descendants. The species evolved it independently, so they have slightly different ways of going about absorbing light; their melanosomes are arranged differently in the skin.

Matt Simon, “Vantablack? Meh. Meet the Ultra-Black Vantafish” at Wired

That’s only incredible if one is a Darwinist.

Paper. (open access)

Just when we think we invented something, like the wheel or the gear or Vantablack… it’s been done.

See also: Evolution appears to converge on goals—but in Darwinian terms, is that possible?


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