Allow me to introduce you to lantern sharks. These small guys live in the deep sea up to the depth of more than a mile. They get their name because, you guessed it, they glow. Each lantern shark comes equipped with big eyes to help them see in the darkness of the deep ocean, sharp spines behind their fins and photophores, which are bioluminescent organs that help light up their sides, fins and bellies. Their glowing bodies can help them hide, warn predators that they are too tough to tango or communicate with other lantern sharks.
Let me get this out of the way right now, lantern sharks might light up but they tend not to evoke oohs and ahhs. What I’m trying to say is they aren’t cute. Yes, the term “nightmare fish” has been used to describe them more than once, but they are fascinating, and deep down inside that’s what counts. When you get past their frightening exteriors, you’ll find that lantern sharks come in a sparking array of types, each with great names and claims to fame. Let’s dive into a few.
The ninja lanternshark can produce a faint glow as a cloaking mechanism to sneak up on small fish and shrimp. It has a sleek, black appearance that inspired its name when it was identified by shark scientist Vicky Vásquez in 2015. The ninja lanternshark’s scientific name is just as cool as its common one: Etmopterus benchleyi, named after Jaws author and shark advocate Peter Benchley.
The viper dogfish, which is part of the lantern shark family Etmopterida, is a creepy and rare fish that has been spotted only a handful of times since it was discovered in 1986. These sharks swim with their mouths open and swallow their prey whole. And if you’re a predator, you’re in for a surprise because viper dogfish have extendable jaws that can reach out and snap at you unexpectedly.
The dwarf lanternshark is the smallest known shark in the world, tinier than a human hand. This little cutie has a light-up belly that helps it attract prey and blend in with the sunlight streaming in from above. Don’t let their size lead you to underestimate them though–they have big heads that make up about a quarter of their whole body with jaws that contain over 60 teeth.
Velvet Belly Lanternshark
The velvet belly lantern shark sounds a bit like a band you would be really into in the 90s. They have glowing spines that look like–cue the Star Wars soundtrack—lightsabers. Researchers think these light-up weapons help them warn other fish what they’ll get if they mess with a shark that’s also a Jedi master.
Great white sharks and tiger sharks might be what most people go for when selecting their favorite sharks, but I’ve got a special space in my heart for these weird looking little guys who literally shine bright. I love that we share our planet with such a diversity of weird and wonderful creatures like lantern sharks. It’s why I feel called to protect our ocean, and you can join me by taking action and becoming an ocean advocate.