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J Exp Biol. 2003 Oct;206(Pt 20):3607-13.

Rapid colour changes in multilayer reflecting stripes in the paradise whiptail, Pentapodus paradiseus.

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  • 1Vision, Touch and Hearing Research Centre, School of Biomedical Sciences, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia.


The Paradise whiptail (Pentapodus paradiseus) has distinct reflective stripes on its head and body. The reflective stripes contain a dense layer of physiologically active iridophores, which act as multilayer reflectors. The wavelengths reflected by these stripes can change from blue to red in 0.25 s. Transmission electron microscopy revealed that the iridophore cells contain plates that are, on average, 51.4 nm thick. This thickness produces a stack, which acts as an ideal quarter-wavelength multilayer reflector (equal optical thickness of plates and spaces) in the blue, but not the red, region of the spectrum. When skin preparations were placed into hyposmotic physiological saline, the peak wavelength of the reflected light shifted towards the longer (red) end of the visible spectrum. Hyperosmotic saline reversed this effect and shifted the peak wavelength towards shorter (blue/UV) wavelengths. Norepinephrine (100 micromol l(-1)) shifted the peak wavelength towards the longer end of the spectrum, while adenosine (100 micromol l(-1)) reversed the effects of norepinephrine. The results from this study show that the wavelength changes are elicited by a change of approximately 70 nm in the distance between adjacent plates in the iridophore cells.

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