Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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9-Jan-2004

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Inside a squid flashlight



This Hawaiian bobtail squid (Euprymna scolopes) has silvery tissue around and across its eye. These reflective, silvery tissues of the eye and skin are made of the same unusual proteins that help make the squid's flashlight work. Image courtesy of Margaret Mcfall-Ngai.
Click here for a full image.

The Hawaiian bobtail squid has a built-in flashlight on its underside which is beamed downward by stacks of silvery reflector plates which are made from an unusual family of proteins, according to new research.



This Hawaiian bobtail squid (Euprymna scolopes) is a night active predator that buries in the sand during the day and comes out at night to forage. This adult specimen, which is preparing to bury for the day, has silvery tissues around its eyes and blue-silver tissues in its skin due to proteins called reflectins. Image courtesy of Margaret McFall-Ngai.
Click here for a full image.

The squid's light producing organ is powered by glowing bacteria with stacks of the reflector plates surrounding the light organ. This glowing "flashlight" serves as a spotlight during feeding in the dark ocean.

The flashlight may also protect the squid from predators the light helps reduce the squid's tell-tale shadow on the ocean floor.

While many aquatic animals have their own light reflectors, most are made of crystals.



Close-up of the eye of a Hawaiian bobtail squid (Euprymna scolopes). Image courtesy of Margaret McFall-Ngai.
Click here for a high resolution photograph.

These protein-based reflectors appear to be unique to squid, octopus and other members of the cephalopod class of marine animals.

Most cephalopods have big heads, large eyes, grabbing tentacles and sacs filled with ink.



Protein-based reflectors appear to be unique to squid, octopus and other members of the cephalopod class of marine animals. Most cephalopods have big heads, large eyes, grabbing tentacles and sacs filled with ink. Image Science.
Click here for a high resolution photograph.

Scientists and inventors, who study animals to get ideas for making new tools and gadgets, may try to use similar protein reflectors in their designs.

In addition to the flashlight, scientists Wendy J. Crookes from the University of Hawaii, Manoa in Honolulu, Hawaii and her colleagues also located the silver-colored reflectors around the squid's eyes and in its skin.

The study appears in the 09 January, 2004 issue of the journal, Science.

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