Luminescent properties of deep sea fish

Allen F. Mensinger, James F. Case

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Bioluminescence flash kinetics and quantum emission of specimens of 15 species of Hawaiian deep sea fish of the families Astronesthidae, Gonostomatidae; Malacosteidae, Melanostomiidae, Myctophidae and Sternoptychidae were determined. Peak flash intensities ranged from 5.1 × 1009 to 8.7 × 1010 photons · s-1 and average flash durations varied from 160 to 4000 ms. Light emission from ventral photophores of myctophids and hatchetfish was sufficient to match downwelling environmental light. Photophore area and maximum light output increased with standard length. Caudal and body photophores of smaller, vertically migrating myctophids made significantly briefer flashes than orbital photophores of larger stomiatiods, indicating predation pressure may favor brief flash durations. Flash kinetics of Malacosteus niger Ayres further supported this theory because its red emitting suborbital photophores produced significantly longer flashes than the conspicuous postorbital blue emitting organs. The distinct flash patterns of two species of Lampanyctus may permit recognition between individuals with similar photophore arrays and overlapping habitats. Flashes in intact hatchetfish were observed for the first time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 27 1990

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We acknowledge the crew of the RV New Horizon and James Childress, Chief Scientist, and his students for their superb assistance.E . Widder and M. Bowlby made helpful comments during the researcha nd on the manuscript. This work was supported by grants from the Office of Naval Research (N00014-84-K-0314 and N00014-87-K-0314) to J. F. Case and a National Science Foundation grant (OCE 85-000237) to J. J. Childress.


  • Animal behavior
  • Bioluminescence
  • Marine biology
  • Teleost


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