One of the blackest pigments known to man is Vantablack, developed by a company in the United Kingdom and capable of absorbing 99.965% of the light that falls on it. With this, three-dimensional objects covered by the substance simply “disappear” in a totally dark silhouette, as if they had been cut out of reality.
But this material is not human exclusivity. Researchers have discovered no less than 12 species of giant fish that have such a black pigmentation that their skin absorbs 99.956% of the light that falls on it, making them extremely difficult to photograph and practically invisible in their natural habitat, at a depth where sunlight does not reach. enough.
A sample of Vantablack, the blackest pigment known to man, applied to a crumpled sheet of aluminum paper. Photo: Surrey Nanosystems.
Marine biologist Karen Osborn, co-author of an article on animals, shared her frustration when trying to photograph them. “I tried to take pictures of these fish and I couldn’t get anything but horrible images, where you couldn’t see any detail,” he said. “How is it possible for me to aim two strobe lamps at them and all that light just disappear?”
According to Alexander Davis, a biologist at Duke University, USA, and author of the article, “we had no idea that ultra-black fish existed. As far as we know, the only vertebrates with this characteristic were some species of birds, like some birds of paradise” .
A “Black Dragon of the Pacific”, one of the fish with pigmentation so dark that it absorbs more than 99% of the light that falls on its skin. Photo: Karen Osborne / Smithsonian
Fish are so dark due to dense layers of melanosomes, small cellular structures full of melanin, the same pigment that gives color to human skin. Although the sunlight does not reach the places where these fish live, the environment is not totally dark: several animals have bioluminescence, that is, they produce light, either to attract prey or to communicate.
And where there are prey, there are predators. Scientists believe that some species of fish have developed this ultra-black pigmentation so that they can lurk close to these light sources, without being detected. Like a ninja dressed in black and hidden in the shadows.
Other species, which only have this pigmentation when young, probably developed it as a way to escape predators. And there are animals that have an ultra-black coating on their internal organs, so that the fluorescent animals that they devour do not attract attention.
“You don’t want to swim around with a glowing belly, do you?” Said Osborne. “It looks for trouble.”