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Ecology: How porpoises sense skin color change | Nature Communications | Nature’s portfolio

Research press release

Nature Communications

August 23, 2023

A research paper provides new insights into the mechanism by which pigfish (Lachnolaimus maximus) sense and monitor rapid color changes.Nature CommunicationsThe results will advance our understanding of not only the behavior and evolution of porpoises, but also how some species of animals rapidly adapt to skin color.

The ability to rapidly change color has evolved many times over in many different animal species, including squid, amphibians, reptiles, and fish. This characteristic is useful, for example, for adapting to changes in environmental temperature, attracting partners, and camouflaging. These animals can rapidly change color within minutes using chromatophores (cells containing pigments, crystals, reflective platelets, etc.). Hogfish alter skin color by transferring pigment within the chromatophores to expose or cover the underlying white tissue for cryptic mimicry and social cues. However, the mechanism by which porcine modulates and perceives this change in skin color is not well understood.

Lorient Schweckert and colleagues are now taking a closer look at the pigskin, using microscopy to measure the effects of light on different parts of the pigfish. As a result, beneath the chromatophores are photoreceptors called SWS1, which are sensitive to incident light to the color represented by the chromatophores, especially to the wavelengths of light found in the corals where the porpoise fish live. SWS1 provided the porcine fish with feedback on how and where skin color changes occurred.

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Schweckert and colleagues suggest that this mechanism (or variations of this mechanism) may also be present in other animals that change the color of their bodies, such as brittle stars.


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