DeVante Givens

The Etmopterus Benchleyi or what is commonly known as the Ninja Lanternshark, is a species of the Etmopterus family with the ability of bioluminescence. Now what is bioluminescence? Bioluminescence is a biochemical emission of light of living organisms such as fireflies or in this case marine animals (Claes, J. M.). However, for the Etmopterus Benchleyi, they use this ability in the form of counterillumination, a method used by marine animals to camouflage to protect themselves from predators. Ninja Lantern Sharks are found in the coastline of Central America, such as Puerto Rico, and reside on the slopes of the dark ocean floors (Ebert, David A.). By living in such a dark environment, these kinds of sharks have an advantage over other marine life. Etmopterus have dark skin, making them very easy to blend into their dark environment, making them difficult to see to the naked eye and one of the reasons are they are hardly seen on camera. Ninja Lanternshark Compared to other sharks, such as the great white shark, Ninja Lantern Sharks are in fact smaller in size, ranging from 18 inches to 20 inches, making them surprisingly susceptible to dangerous predators in their environment. While Etmopterus Benchleyi are not on the top of the food chain, this does not stop them from hunting targets bigger than them. 

Even though they use their counter-illumination to ward off predators in the deep ocean, Lantern Sharks use their bioluminescence to attract their prey. Adding to that is their incredible speed, as they maneuver around the ocean floors in a swift motion. Typically, the female ninja shark is slightly bigger in comparison to the male sharks and this due to needing the extra girth to supply the young during pregnancy. Although from a first glance they appear to be all black, the Ninja Shark also has tiny blue pigment patterns on their skin. This is where counter illuminance comes into play. These pigment patterns shown on the Lantern Sharks are from a glandular organ that are called photophones, which appear as spots on the belly and fin of the shark.(Johnsen, S., Widder).

Although they are small creatures, the Ninja Lantern Sharks are a big force to be reckoned with, in the dark depths of the ocean. These sharks are not like their cousin sharks like the Great White or Tiger Shark, where they are stereotypically seen as the aggressive beast in the ocean. Etmopterus Benchleyi are as their name says, a ninja. Using their bioluminescence, they blend into their environment, throwing off their enemies and attract their prey. Much like any ninja, they attack with a swiftness, not allowing any chance of survival. 

A dramatization of the Ninja Lantern Shark using counter-illumination to hunt a mackerel fish


 [1] Claes, J. M., & Mallefet, J. (2009). Hormonal control of luminescence from lantern shark (Etmopterus spinax) photophores. Journal of Experimental Biology, 212(22), 3684–3692. doi: 10.1242/jeb.034363

This article opens a discussion on bioluminescent sharks using their hormones as an off and on switch to activate their bioluminescence through a series of test. Their main objective was to stimulate the skin and locate which hormones would causes this reaction.

[2] Johnsen, S., Widder, E. A., & Mobley, C. D. (2004). Propagation and Perception of Bioluminescence: Factors Affecting Counterillumination as a Cryptic Strategy. The Biological Bulletin, 207(1), 1–16. doi: 10.2307/1543624

This article defines Counter-illumination with marine animals, and dives into detail about the ways some of these marine animals use this ability to sway predators in the ocean. It is interesting to discover that counter-illumination is not always successful in evading predators.

[3] Ebert, David A., and Kelley E. Van Hees. “Etmopterus Marshae Sp. Nov, a New Lanternshark (Squaliformes: Etmopteridae) from the Philippine Islands, with a Revised Key to the Etmopterus Lucifer Clade.” Zootaxa, vol. 4508, no. 2, 2018, p. 197., doi:10.11646/zootaxa.4508.2.3.

This article talks about the family of Etmopterus and goes into detail of how Lantern Sharks use their bioluminescence.

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