What You Need to Know: Dragonfish

Dragonfish are armed with dagger-like invisible teeth; scientists now know why

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This March 2019 microscope photo shows a dragonfish and its teeth in the Deheyn Lab of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif. The deep-sea creature's teeth are transparent underwater - virtually invisible to prey. Scientists say it because of a nanostructure in the teeth that helps scatter light.
Photo: Audrey Velasco-Hogan/AP

The dark-colored fish, which can eat prey half the size of its body, feed at the bottom of the sea where sunlight rarely penetrates and their translucent teeth help them surprise their prey. Instead of glowing white in the dark environment, the fish’s deadly chompers are nearly impossible to see.

Now scientists know why the bottom feeder’s teeth, which are made from the same minerals as shark or human teeth, for example, appear transparent.

Tiny structures inside the teeth reduce the amount of light scattered by the teeth, making them next to impossible to see in the dark depths of the sea, according to a new study published in the journal Matter.

“We suggest that the nanostructured design of the transparent dragonfish teeth enables predatory success as it makes its wide-open mouth armed with saber-like teeth effectively disappear, showing no contrast to the surrounding blackness of the fish nor the background darkness of the deep sea,” researchers said in their study summary.

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, June 5, 2019, they are made of the same materials as human teeth, but the microscopic structure is different.
Photo: Audrey Velasco-Hogan/AP

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"They look like monsters," Marc Meyers, study co-author and University of California, San Diego, scientist, said, according to Science News. "But they're mini monsters — about as long as a pencil.”

Meyers said dragonfish aren’t the only animals with transparent teeth but this is the first study to examine how light interacts with the teeth. 

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