THE SEE-THROUGH ZOO
Very Interesting|January /February 2021
Welcome to a menagerie of transparency
BEN HOARE

Tropical forests are teeming with predators for whom frogs are top of the menu, so these amphibians have understandably evolved some nifty defences. Glass frogs, which inhabit the humid cloud forests of South and Central America, rely on a novel form of camouflage: they bare all, or almost all. As this studio photo of Hyalinobatrachium aureoguttatum shows, their see-through skin offers up an eyeful of beating heart, blood vessels, bones and digestive tract.

But why display your innards? After all, predators can still see you. A recent study revealed the secret to their curious camouflage, and it lies not so much in their body, but their legs. As the most translucent part of the animals, their legs match the brightness of the background foliage. By blending in, the disappearing phantom limbs help to hide the true outline of these freakish frogs.

THE EYES HAVE IT

PACIFIC BARRELEYE FISH

In 2004, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) deployed at sea by researchers from Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) filmed some extraordinary video that made headlines around the world. While exploring at a depth of 600m off the coast of California, the robo-sub captured the first footage of a living Pacific barreleye or spookfish (Macropinna microstoma). Previously, the googly-eyed, deep-sea fish had only ever been found dead. Those specimens had all lost the transparent ‘hood’ that marine biologist Dr Helen Scales, author of Eye of the Shoal, calls “a clear bubble like an astronaut’s helmet”. Thanks to the video – a still from which appears here – scientists worked out that the barreleye’s telescopic, tubular eyes can swivel under their protective visor, enabling the fish to peer up, forwards or down. “The ocean is a near-limitless 3D environment,” says Scales, “so there’s a selective pressure for the ability to scan above and below. Plenty more fish like this are probably waiting be discovered.”

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM VERY INTERESTINGView All

Combatting Virus Variants Before They Emerge

The technology could be used to create universal vaccines for COVID, malaria and more, its creators say

2 mins read
Very Interesting
March/April 2022

Bearing With a Sore Head

What hurts in your skull - and why

4 mins read
Very Interesting
March/April 2022

Octopuses on Parade

With three hearts, blue blood, eight bendy arms, and intelligence that outsmarts other spineless animals, there's nothing quite like an octopus. Join us on a dive into their weird world...

6 mins read
Very Interesting
March/April 2022

More Chocolate! More Tea!

Flavonoids, which are found in foods like chocolate, berries, and tea, play a key role in heart health

2 mins read
Very Interesting
March/April 2022

Palates and Perambulations

Outside of the major resorts, there are myriad activities worth investing in for a day out in Mauritius

4 mins read
Very Interesting
March/April 2022

Skull From Ancient Human Ancestor Unearthed

The 250,000-year-old remains of a Homo naledi were found in the remote depths of the Rising Star cave system in Johannesburg

2 mins read
Very Interesting
March/April 2022

Only in Your Wildest Dreams

Even today, scientists don't know why we dream. But now, psychologists have found a way to communicate with lucid dreamers - people who can take control of their dreams – in the hope that they might help us explore what goes on with our brains at night

10 mins read
Very Interesting
March/April 2022

The First Black Holes

Since just after the Big Bang, ancient black holes may have been shaping the universe as we know it. Now, scientists are tantalizingly close to glimpsing these mysterious objects for the first time

10+ mins read
Very Interesting
March/April 2022

Your Mysterious Brain

Science has mapped the surface of Mars and translated the code for life. By comparison, we know next to nothing about what's between our ears. Over the next few pages, we ask leading scientists to answer some of the most important questions about our brains...

10+ mins read
Very Interesting
March/April 2022

Beethoven's Unfinished 10th Symphony Completed by an AI

Computer scientists teamed up with historians, musicologists, and composers to teach artificial intelligence how to compose like Beethoven

5 mins read
Very Interesting
March/April 2022