The megamouth shark is not a luminous species

Published on
25. November 2020

The megamouth shark, Megachasma pelagios, is not a luminous species

Laurent Duchatelet, Victoria C. Moris, Taketeru Tomita, Jacques Mahillon, Keiichi Sato, Catherine Behets, Jérôme Mallefet


Despite its five meters length, the megamouth shark (Megachasma pelagios Taylor, Compagno & Struhsaker, 1983) is one of the rarest big sharks known in the world (117 specimens observed and documented so far). This filter-feeding shark has been assumed to be a luminous species, using its species-specific white band to produce bioluminescence as a lure trap. Another hypothesis was the use of the white band reflectivity to attract prey or for social recognition purposes. However, no histological study has ever been performed to confirm these assumptions so far. Two hypotheses about the megamouth shark’s luminescence arose: firstly, the light emission may be intrinsically or extrinsically produced by specific light organs (photophores) located either on the upper jaw white band or inside the mouth; secondly, the luminous appearance might be a consequence of the reflection of prey luminescence on the white band during feeding events. Aims of the study were to test these hypotheses by highlighting the potential presence of specific photophores responsible for bioluminescence and to reveal and analyze the presence of specialized light-reflective structures in and around the mouth of the shark. By using different histological approaches (histological sections, fluorescent in situ hybridization, scanning electron microscopy) and spectrophotometry, this study allows to unravel these hypotheses and strongly supports that the megamouth shark does not emit bioluminescence, but might rather reflect the light produced by bioluminescent planktonic preys, thanks to the denticles of the white band.

PLoS ONE 15(11): e0242196. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0242196


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