Scientists Crack Secret of Fish’s Deadly, Transparent Teeth

This April 2019 photo provided by Audrey Velasco-Hogan shows a dragonfish during a specimen collection session along the coast of San Diego, Calif. The deep-sea creature’s teeth are transparent underwater – virtually invisible to prey. According to research released on Wednesday, they are made of the same materials as human teeth, but the microscopic structure is different. And as a result, light doesn’t reflect off the surface. (Audrey Velasco-Hogan via AP)

(CN) – A deep-sea fish uses a glowing tendril below its mouth and a row of transparent buzz saw teeth to improve its hunting skills, ocean researchers revealed Wednesday.

The dragonfish could have been inspired by horror writer H.P. Lovecraft: The small deep-sea creature swims with its bioluminescent tendrils that generate light, large maw that can unhinge to open even wider and now nearly invisible teeth.

According to a study published Wednesday in the journal Matter, the small fish found over 1,600 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean has transparent teeth, allowing the voracious predator to approach its prey with its mouth wide open like a floating optical illusion.

Fish that see teeth approaching flee, but if there is no light bouncing off those teeth then the dragonfish can sneak up on its food practically undetected. Dragonfish measure around 6 inches but can feed on fish up to 50% of their size, because the eel-like creature can unhinge its jaws for a bigger maw to chomp down on its prey.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego, say the dragonfish is so carnivorous that specimens would eat each other during the study.

But back to those transparent teeth, which researchers found have grain-sized nanocrystals embedded throughout.

Like humans, the dragonfish teeth are comprised of an outer enamel-layer and an inner dentin layer. The nanocrystals prevent the reflection of any light from the environment and dampen what other creatures in the water can see. It also doesn’t help potential dragonfish victims that the razor-sharp teeth are thin compared to other predatory fish.

“Down at great depths there’s almost no light, and the little light there is comes from fish, such as the dragonfish, that have small photophores that generate light, attracting prey,” says researcher and author Marc Meyers from UC San Diego. “But the dragonfish’s teeth are huge in proportion to its mouth – it’s like a monster from the movie ‘Alien’ – and if those teeth should become visible, prey will immediately shy away. But we speculate that the teeth are transparent because it helps the predator.”

Biologist Dimitri Deheyn from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography suggested the study of the dragonfish’s teeth and joined the UC San Diego team. Researchers also worked with Leibniz Institute for New Materials in Germany who analyzed the nanostructure of the strange teeth.

This has inspired researchers to create transparent items using nanocrystals and ceramics, and are in the process of raising money to do so.

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