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Marine Animals Use Secret Light Communication to Talk to Each Other

First Posted: Nov 20, 2015 09:07 AM EST

Scientists have learned about a new kind of light communication used by marine animals. The new information may have applications in satellite remote sensing, biomedical imaging, cancer detection, and computer data storage.

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

Linear polarized light is seen only in one plane, whereas circular polarized light travels in a spiral, clockwise or anti-clockwise, direction. In this case, the researchers determined that the mantis shrimp displayed circular polarized patterns on the body.

"These shrimp live in holes in the reef," said Marshall. "They like to hide away; they're secretive and don't like to be in the open."

The researchers actually dropped a mantis shrimp into a tank with two burrows to hide in. Oneo f them reflected unpolarized light and the other, circular polarized light. The shrimp chose the unpolarized burrow about 68 percent of the time, suggesting the circular polarized burrow was perceived as being occupied by another mantis shrimp.

The findings reveal that these animals use light to communicate. It could also have implications for detecting cancer; cancerous cells do not reflect polarized light. This means that cameras equipped with circular polarized sensors may be able to detect cancer cells before the human eye can see them.

The findings are published in the journal Current Biology.

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