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Marine Species Use Secret Form Of Light Communication, New Study Reveals

Nov 22, 2015 10:17 PM EST
Mantis Shrimp
Mantis shrimp, one of which is pictured here, are particularly secretive marine creatures that use reflected circular polarized light to communicate. The mantis shrimp pictured is curled up in a defensive position and the red color indicates areas of reflected light.
(Photo : Credit Yakir Gagnon/Queensland Brain Institute )

Researchers may finally have an explanation for the mantis shrimps' ability to reflect and detect circular polarizing light - an ability extremely rare in nature. It turns out that it is actually a secret form of communication, according to researchers from the Queensland Brain Institute at The University of Queensland.

"In birds, color is what we're familiar with; in the ocean, reef fish display with colour. This is a form of communication we understand. What we're now discovering is there's a completely new language of communication," Professor Justin Marshall, one of the study researchers, explained in a new release.

Circular polarized light travels in a spiral direction, compared to linear polarized like that is seen on only one plane. After carefully observing mantis shrimp (Gonodactylaceus falcatus), researchers discovered the marine crustaceans display circular polarized patterns on the body, specifically on the legs, head and heavily armored tail, since those areas are most visible when the creatures curl up during conflict.  

Mantis shrimp are secretive creatures that hide away in holes in the reef. Knowing this, researchers tested the shrimp's reaction to polarized light by dropping individuals into a tank with two burrows to hide in: one reflecting unpolarized light and the other reflecting circular polarized light. In doing so, researchers found they chose to hide in the unpolarized burrow 68 percent of the time. Therefore, researchers concluded the shrimp perceive circular polarized light as an indication that particular burrow is occupied.  

"If you essentially label holes with circular polarizing light, by shining circular polarizing light out of them, shrimps won't go near it. They know -- or they think they know -- there's another shrimp there," Marshall added.

The recent findings have implications in satellite remote sensing, biomedical imaging, cancer detection, and computer data storage, researchers noted.

"Cancerous cells do not reflect polarized light, in particular circular polarizing light, in the same way as healthy cells," Marshall explained.

Essentially this means cameras equipped with circular polarizing sensors may be able to improve early detection of cancerous cells.

Their study was recently published in the journal Current Biology

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