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Sci Rep. 2016 Apr 25;6:24751. doi: 10.1038/srep24751.

Biofluorescence in Catsharks (Scyliorhinidae): Fundamental Description and Relevance for Elasmobranch Visual Ecology.

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  • 1Baruch College, City University of New York, Department of Natural Sciences, New York, NY 10010, USA.
  • 2City University of New York, The Graduate Center, Program in Biology, New York, NY 10016, USA.
  • 3American Museum of Natural History, Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics, New York, NY 10024, USA.
  • 4College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.
  • 5University of California, San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA.
  • 6University of Haifa, Charney School of Marine Sciences, Haifa, 3498838, Israel.
  • 7Interuniversity Institute of Marine Sciences, Eilat, 88103, Israel.
  • 8University of Kansas, Biodiversity Institute and Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Lawrence, KS 66049, USA.
  • 9St. Cloud State University, Department of Biological Sciences, St. Cloud, MN 56301, USA.
  • 10The John B. Pierce Laboratory, Cellular and Molecular Physiology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06519, USA.
  • 11American Museum of Natural History, Division of Vertebrate Zoology, Department of Ichthyology, New York, NY 10024, USA.


Biofluorescence has recently been found to be widespread in marine fishes, including sharks. Catsharks, such as the Swell Shark (Cephaloscyllium ventriosum) from the eastern Pacific and the Chain Catshark (Scyliorhinus retifer) from the western Atlantic, are known to exhibit bright green fluorescence. We examined the spectral sensitivity and visual characteristics of these reclusive sharks, while also considering the fluorescent properties of their skin. Spectral absorbance of the photoreceptor cells in these sharks revealed the presence of a single visual pigment in each species. Cephaloscyllium ventriosum exhibited a maximum absorbance of 484 ± 3 nm and an absorbance range at half maximum (λ1/2max) of 440-540 nm, whereas for S. retifer maximum absorbance was 488 ± 3 nm with the same absorbance range. Using the photoreceptor properties derived here, a "shark eye" camera was designed and developed that yielded contrast information on areas where fluorescence is anatomically distributed on the shark, as seen from other sharks' eyes of these two species. Phylogenetic investigations indicate that biofluorescence has evolved at least three times in cartilaginous fishes. The repeated evolution of biofluorescence in elasmobranchs, coupled with a visual adaptation to detect it; and evidence that biofluorescence creates greater luminosity contrast with the surrounding background, highlights the potential importance of biofluorescence in elasmobranch behavior and biology.

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