Biologists unravel the secrets of “invisible” animals


This story originally Appear in Atlas Obscura And is Climate Service Desk cooperate.

Biologist Aaron Pomerantz hiked through the tropical rainforest of Peru. It was an 8-hour boat ride from the nearest jungle settlement. Along the way, biologist Aaron Pomerantz saw what seemed to be a small stealth jet flying along the trail. “I was holding the net and trying to catch things,” he said, “and these just changed directions and disappeared.”

This is his first close encounter with a butterfly with clear wings. This insect lives in the forests of Central and South America. It has extraordinary camouflage means: transparent or “glass” wings, making them special in dense forests. It is difficult to be found.

“It’s like invisible power,” said Pomerantz, the lead author of a recent study. Journal of Experimental Biology This checks how the clear wings develop. “If you can put on an invisibility cloak, it will be difficult for predators to find you. In the marine environment, there are many transparent species, but they are rare on land. This really comes into a problem,’transparent on land what do you need?'”

By studying the wings of species Greta OttoAlso known as the glass-winged butterfly, Pomerantz and his colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, Woods Hole Marine Biology Laboratory, and California Institute of Technology discovered several factors during various stages of pupal development. The shape and density of the microscopic scales have changed, usually resulting in a colorful pattern of butterflies. A layer of fine waxy pillars also acts as an additional anti-glare coating.

If it looks like a unique adaptation, it is not. “This has evolved many times,” Pomerantz said. He pointed out that there are hundreds of butterflies and moths with glass wings.Although they only represent a small part of the order Lepidoptera, They constitute a rare example of such transparency on land. Glass frogs exhibit varying degrees of skin translucency, which is another example.

On the other hand, the ocean is full of transparent species, from jellyfish and sponges to crustaceans, cephalopods, and even fish. In the early summer of 2021, during an expedition on the research ship of the Schmidt Institute of Oceanography, two rare sightings of glass octopuses Falk, To the depth of water near the remote Phoenix Island in the Pacific Ocean. Facts have proved that invisibility in the ocean is easier to achieve than on land, partly because of the visual and physical properties of water.

“You can think of it as putting a piece of glass in the water,” said marine biologist Laura Bagge. “This kind of environment is much flatter than the environment on land, and you don’t have to deal with gravity. Therefore, most of these animals are something that has water and is buoyant, and does not have the spine or spine needed to survive on land. Dense structure.”

Imagine that classic jaw One scene-from the perspective of a shark-a silhouette of a swimmer standing under the light streaming down from above. In sunny places, underwater predators can easily see opaque shapes, so transparency can help you slide through. Bagge said that it is still useful in the depths of the ocean, because many bioluminescent animals emit their own light even in non-light areas (deep places where little or no sunlight penetrates).

Now a senior biologist at Torch Technologies in Florida, Bagge was fascinated by the transparency of animals during his thesis research cruise at Duke University. She reached into a bucket of marine life and fished out a mysterious specimen. “It’s hard, like a lobster, but it’s a completely transparent animal,” she said. It is a crustacean like a shrimp, Cyst, It can grow as big as a human hand. “They are very cool because they have a hard shell and are full of muscles. How do you say it clearly?”


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