Marine Biology

, Volume 148, Issue 2, pp 383–394 | Cite as

Red bioluminescence in fishes: on the suborbital photophores of Malacosteus, Pachystomias and Aristostomias

  • Peter J. Herring
  • Celia Cope
Research Article


Many deep-sea animals produce blue bioluminescence, but species of three genera of midwater dragonfishes also produce red light. In addition to numerous small body photophores, species of these genera (Malacosteus, Pachystomias and Aristostomias) have large suborbital photophores that emit red light and postorbital ones that emit blue light. Pachystomias microdon additionally has a red-emitting preorbital photophore. Fluorescence measurements from the intact suborbital photophores, and from their exposed cores, confirm the previous hypothesis that the red light emitted by Malacosteus is spectrally altered by a superficial shortwave cutoff brown filter. No such filter is present in the other two genera. Studies of the anatomy of the photophores show that the suborbital photophore of Malacosteus is similar in general organisation to other photophores, including the postorbital photophore. The red-emitting photophores of Pachystomias and Aristostomias, however, have a unique organisation, in which the bulk of the photophore comprises a gland that lies outside the thick reflector. Strands of tissue run from the gland into the photogenic core of the photophore through numerous pores in the reflector. The production and use of red light by these fishes is discussed in the context of these results.


Core Material Reflective Material Brown Surface Bioluminescence Emission Rectangular Midwater Trawl 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We are most grateful to Dr E.A. Widder for her assistance in obtaining the video images in Figs. 1 and 6 and to Dr N.J. Marshall for advice on the reflectance measurements. We are also grateful to Dr. Widder and Dr. T. Sutton for their helpful comments on the manuscript.

Supplementary material

227_2005_85_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (8 kb)
Supplementary material


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter J. Herring
    • 1
  • Celia Cope
    • 2
  1. 1.National Oceanography CentreSouthamptonSouthamptonUK
  2. 2.Department of AnatomySt George’s Hospital Medical SchoolLondonUK

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