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Overview

Brief Summary

Taxonomy

Discovery and description
The first recorded Malacosteus specimen was collected by Captain Joseph Porter in 1848 in the northwest Atlantic, south of Newfoundland. The fish was found at the surface, probably close to death, and 'made no attempt to escape' when captured. It was presented to the Boston Society of Natural History where it was examined by William Orville Ayres, who named the fish Malacosteus niger (meaning 'soft boned and black'). Ayres described the skeleton as being extremely delicate: 'the bones can be pierced even in their hardest parts by a needle with the greatest ease'. He also noticed the light organ below the eye but was not able to guess its function.

Classification
There has been some reorganisation of the order Stomiiformes with respect to Malacosteus niger since its first discovery and description (Ayers 1848). It was initially placed in its own family, the Malacosteidae, but after a revision of the order (Fink 1985) this was merged with several other families into the Stomiidae. Another more recent revision (Kenaley 2007) examined hundreds of Malacosteus specimens from all over the world and concluded that the following were synonyms of Malacosteus niger:Kenaley also identified a new species from the southern ocean which he named Malacosteus australis, bringing the total number of currently accepted species within the genus to 2.
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Introduction

Watch video footage of the intriguingly named stoplight loosejaw, Malacosteus niger, as its interesting features are discussed by James Maclaine, a fish curator at the Museum. Malacosteus niger is one of the most bizarre fishes ever discovered. Not only is it capable of producing both red and blue-green light, but it can also dislocate its head in order to lunge out with its lower jaw at prey (much like a dragonfly larva). Hence its common name, the stoplight loosejaw. It belongs in the family Stomiidae, also known as the dragonfishes.
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Comprehensive Description

Biology

Meso- and bathypelagic (Ref. 58302). It has been suggested that this species does not undergo substantial diel vertical migration and remains below 500 m (Ref. 78501). Feeds on crustaceans and fishes (Ref. 58426).
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Diet

Studies have shown that the gut contents of Malacosteus niger are more likely to contain copepod crustaceans than larger animals like fishes or shrimps (Sutton 2005). This is surprising considering its fearsome array of large fangs and huge gape. Its lack of gill rakers also suggests a diet of bigger prey organisms. So why does M. niger seem to prefer copepods? The answer appears to be that these small creatures provide the chemicals that M. niger uses in its eyes to see red light. These chemicals are known to be derived from chlorophyll (Douglas et al 2000), which the copepods in turn acquire from their diet. When it gets the chance, however, M. niger will revert to its ancestral feeding habits and devour much larger organisms, before going back to snacking on the copepods.
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Biology

Although quite monstrous in appearance, Malacosteus niger does not get very big, growing to a maximum length of around 25cm. Not much is known about its biology.The scaleless, very thin, black skin is easily damaged during capture in a net, which is why a lot of museum specimens have bald patches.

Light production
M. niger has two large light organs, or photophores, on each side of its head:
  • the suborbital photophore which produces red light is beneath the eye
  • the postorbital photophore which produces blue light is further away behind the eye
Like many deep-sea fishes, M. niger uses a chemical called luciferin to produce blue light (460-490 nanometres in wavelength). This is capable of the greatest penetration through the water and can therefore be seen from further away than other wavelengths.To create red light, a protein in the suborbital photophore absorbs blue light and then emits light of a greater wavelength. This light then passes through a special filter which increases the wavelength even further to over 700nm.The ability of Malacosteus species to produce red light appears to be nearly unique, shared by only two other groups of closely related fishes and a beetle.

Reproduction
It is almost impossible to study the sex lives of deep sea organisms due to the obvious difficulty in observing such behaviour, therefore a lot of speculation has arisen.One interesting feature of M. niger is that it shows sexual dimorphism - the males have a larger postorbital photophore than the females. It is possible that a male could use this light as part of a courtship display or at least to alert potential mates in the vicinity to his presence and availability, but we may never know for sure.
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Distribution

Worldwide in all oceans from Arctic latitudes at 66°N to approx. 30°S in the southern hemisphere; unknown in the Mediterranean.
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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

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from West of Greenland to the Caribbean sea
  • North-West Atlantic Ocean species (NWARMS)
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Distribution conservation

Malacosteus niger is found throughout the world's oceans, primarily between 65 degrees north and 30 degrees south. In the southern ocean it is replaced by its closest relative, Malacosteus australis (Kenaley 2007). It spends most of its life below 500m, sometimes reaching depths of around 1000m or more.M. niger has no commercial importance and is not currently regarded as endangered. These fish are relatively common in deep oceanic trawls and we have nearly 100 specimens in the Fish Collection at the Natural History Museum.
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Nearly cosmopolitan, including Hawaiian Islands, but except Eastern Pacific.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Dorsal spines (total): 0; Dorsal soft rays (total): 17 - 21; Analspines: 0; Analsoft rays: 18 - 24; Vertebrae: 47 - 51
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Malacosteus niger is an elongate species, its depth tapering slightly from the cleithrum (9.6–18.0% SL) to anal-fin origin (5.9–10.7% SL), and more abruptly toward caudal peduncle (1.6–3.0% SL). The head is small (7.8–12.3% SL), eye large (4.3–6.9% SL). Dentary teeth number 18–53, are variable in size and decrease in number with growth. Premaxillary teeth are less numerous (12–53), small to moderate, slightly curved, and often produced in two rows, a ventral row positioned along the ventral margin of the premaxilla and a dorsolateral row positioned along the anterolateral margin of the premaxilla. The maxillary teeth are minute and numerous. Palatine teeth are absent. The basibranchial tooth patches are placed dorsally in four groups, anteriormost three groups as bilateral patches associated with basibranchials 1, 2, and 3; the posteriormost group is associated with basibranchial 4, produced either as a pair of patches or as a single often laterally offset patch. Pharyngobranchial teeth are present in two groups on each side.

The pectoral fin is moderately elongate (10.3–23.8% SL); pectoral-fin rays number 2–6. The pelvic fin is moderately elongate (14.5–25.7% SL) and placed at about mid-body, the prepelvic length 54.0–62.2 % SL. Pelvic-fin rays number 6. The dorsal and anal fins are placed far back on body and nearly opposite, predorsal length 76.2–84.1 % SL, preanal length 74.1–83.2 % SL. Dorsal-fin rays number 16–21, anal-fin rays 18–24. Caudal fin small and emarginate, lower lobe longer than upper. Vertebrae number 45–51.

Like all other species of Malacosteus, there are three cephalic photophores near orbit: accessory orbital photophore (AO), posterior orbital photophore (PO), and suborbital photophore (SO). The teardrop-shaped AO is large (15.3–27.2% UJL, 4.2–7.6% SL) and subequal to orbit in specimens larger than 50 mm (79.1–126.8%), relatively larger than orbit in smaller specimens (110.6–144.7%). The PO is moderate (5.8–11.9% UJL, 1.5–3.1% SL), an ovoid body posterior to orbit with its ventral edge aligned with ventral margin of eye. The PO is sexually dimorphic, larger in males and smaller in females. The SO is minute, round and situated on posteroventral margin of the orbit in an elongate pocket with a dorsomedial opening. There are small photophores and unorganized areas of accessory white luminous tissue scattered over head and body, often arranged around lateral photophores or along dark vertical lines composed of minute photophore-like structures. The ventrolateral and opercular photophores glowing blue in fresh specimens.

The lateral and ventral photophore series are arranged in discrete groups (e.g., IP, PV, VAV, etc.); each group often containing one to several clusters of photophores. The lateral series is low on the body, extending posteriorly from a position just anterior to level of posterior angle of jaw (when closed) to just anterior to origin of anal fin. The ventral series extends posteriorly from anterior tip of isthmus along ventral midline to insertion of anal fin.

The skin is thin and scaleless. Color of fresh specimens is black, fading to dark brown after lengthy preservation. Malacosteus niger is moderate in size, attaining standard lengths up to 220 mm.

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Size

Maximum size: 216 mm SL
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Malacosteus niger is an elongate species, its depth tapering slightly from the cleithrum (9.6–18.0% SL) to anal-fin origin (5.9–10.7% SL), and more abruptly toward caudal peduncle (1.6–3.0% SL). The head is small (7.8–12.3% SL), eye large (4.3–6.9% SL). Dentary teeth number 18–53, are variable in size and decrease in number with growth. Premaxillary teeth are less numerous (12–53), small to moderate, slightly curved, and often produced in two rows, a ventral row positioned along the ventral margin of the premaxilla and a dorsolateral row positioned along the anterolateral margin of the premaxilla. The maxillary teeth are minute and numerous. Palatine teeth are absent. The basibranchial tooth patches are placed dorsally in four groups, anteriormost three groups as bilateral patches associated with basibranchials 1, 2, and 3; the posteriormost group is associated with basibranchial 4, produced either as a pair of patches or as a single often laterally offset patch. Pharyngobranchial teeth are present in two groups on each side.

The pectoral fin is moderately elongate (10.3–23.8% SL); pectoral-fin rays number 2–6. The pelvic fin is moderately elongate (14.5–25.7% SL) and placed at about mid-body, the prepelvic length 54.0–62.2 % SL. Pelvic-fin rays number 6. The dorsal and anal fins are placed far back on body and nearly opposite, predorsal length 76.2–84.1 % SL, preanal length 74.1–83.2 % SL. Dorsal-fin rays number 16–21, anal-fin rays 18–24. Caudal fin small and emarginate, lower lobe longer than upper. Vertebrae number 45–51.

Like all other species of Malacosteus, there are three cephalic photophores near orbit: accessory orbital photophore (AO), posterior orbital photophore (PO), and suborbital photophore (SO). The teardrop-shaped AO is large (15.3–27.2% UJL, 4.2–7.6% SL) and subequal to orbit in specimens larger than 50 mm (79.1–126.8%), relatively larger than orbit in smaller specimens (110.6–144.7%). The PO is moderate (5.8–11.9% UJL, 1.5–3.1% SL), an ovoid body posterior to orbit with its ventral edge aligned with ventral margin of eye. The PO is sexually dimorphic, larger in males and smaller in females. The SO is minute, round and situated on posteroventral margin of the orbit in an elongate pocket with a dorsomedial opening. There are small photophores and unorganized areas of accessory white luminous tissue scattered over head and body, often arranged around lateral photophores or along dark vertical lines composed of minute photophore-like structures. The ventrolateral and opercular photophores glowing blue in fresh specimens.

The lateral and ventral photophore series are arranged in discrete groups (e.g., IP, PV, VAV, etc.); each group often containing one to several clusters of photophores. The lateral series is low on the body, extending posteriorly from a position just anterior to level of posterior angle of jaw (when closed) to just anterior to origin of anal fin. The ventral series extends posteriorly from anterior tip of isthmus along ventral midline to insertion of anal fin.

The skin is thin and scaleless. Color of fresh specimens is black, fading to dark brown after lengthy preservation. Malacosteus niger is moderate in size, attaining standard lengths up to 220 mm.
  • Kenaley, C.P. 2007 Revision of the stoplight loosejaw genus Malacosteus (Teleostei: Stomiidae: Malacosteinae), with description of a new species from the temperate Southern Hemisphere and Indian Ocean. Copeia, 2007(4): 886-900.  

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Max. size

25.6 cm TL (male/unsexed; (Ref. 5951))
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Diagnostic Description

This species possess the following characters: in male, postorbital photophore (PO) 5.8-11.9% upper jaw length (UJL), 1.5-3.1% SL; female PO 2.8-8.1% UJL, 0.8-11.9% SL; IP photophores 3-5 in 3-5 clusters (Ref. 78501).
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Look Alikes

Lookalikes

Malacosteus species
Malacosteus niger has a larger postorbital photophore than Malacosteus australis, and differing numbers of other smaller photophores on the rest of the body.

Closely related genera
Species of Photostomias and Aristostomias are similar to Malacosteus in that they:
  • lack an ethymoid membrane (floor) in their mouths
  • have no membrane connecting the hinge of the lower jaw to the neck - hence their collective name 'loosejaws'
However Malacosteus can be distinguished as it has pectoral fins (absent in Photostomias) and no chin barbel (present in Aristostomias). Pachystomias also closely resembles Malacosteus but has an ethymoid membrane and the lower jaw is connected to the body.Like Malacosteus, the related genera Pachystomias and Aristostomias are capable of producing red light.
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Ecology

Habitat

Environment

bathypelagic; marine; depth range 500 - 3886 m (Ref. 50610)
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Habitat Type: Marine

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nektonic
  • North-West Atlantic Ocean species (NWARMS)
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Found to depths of 2500 m.
  • North-West Atlantic Ocean species (NWARMS)
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Depth range based on 329 specimens in 1 taxon.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 289 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 0 - 4844
  Temperature range (°C): 1.384 - 18.997
  Nitrate (umol/L): 1.492 - 42.520
  Salinity (PPS): 33.836 - 36.586
  Oxygen (ml/l): 0.456 - 6.663
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.074 - 3.202
  Silicate (umol/l): 0.993 - 143.089

Graphical representation

Depth range (m): 0 - 4844

Temperature range (°C): 1.384 - 18.997

Nitrate (umol/L): 1.492 - 42.520

Salinity (PPS): 33.836 - 36.586

Oxygen (ml/l): 0.456 - 6.663

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.074 - 3.202

Silicate (umol/l): 0.993 - 143.089
 
Note: this information has not been validated. Check this *note*. Your feedback is most welcome.

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Depth: 0 - 2500m.
Recorded at 2500 meters.

Habitat: bathypelagic.
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Migration

Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

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Dispersal

Kenaley (2008) found that Malacosteus niger exhibited no pattern of diel vertical migration. As few as 3% of a population make migrations to the epipelagic zone at night. The vast majority of M. niger specimens have been captured below 500 m.

  • Kenaley, C. P. 2008. Diel vertical migration of the loosejaw dragonfishes (Stomiiformes: Stomiidae: Malacosteinae): a new analysis for rare pelagic taxa. Journal of Fish Biology 73(4): 888–901.

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Behaviour

Clues to a predatory lifestyle
Like many of its dragonfish relatives, M. niger has a very large mouth relative to its body size - the lower jaw takes up over 20% of its length. The head can hinge backwards at the top part of the neck allowing the lower jaw to shoot out and impale smaller fishes or crustaceans with its large sharp fangs. The jaw is then withdrawn and the prey is fed into the throat using pharyngeal teeth located in the neck.The lower jaw has no floor, or ethymoid membrane, and this is thought to perhaps reduce resistance as it flies through the water.The location of the fins give another clue to the fish's predatory lifestyle. Like a pike, the dorsal and anal fins are located near the tail which allows the fish to suddenly dart forward and attack. The tail is quite small and the lower lobe slightly larger - this helps the fish generate some upward movement as it moves through the water.

Migration
Many midwater fishes undergo a large vertical migration upwards at night following the smaller organisms on which they feed, in some cases all the way to the surface. Unlike the majority of the other 220 or so species of dragonfishes, M. niger does not do this and chooses to spend most of its time between 500-1000m, where its preferred prey items are found.
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Evolution and Systematics

Evolution

The Stomiiformes order contains 5 families, 53 genera and about 391 species (Nelson 2006).The genus Malacosteus is considered to be part of a small group which makes up the most derived clade within the Stomiiformes (Fink 1985). The group contains:This means that these 4 genera - containing 16 species - appeared most recently in the evolutionary timescale.
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Functional Adaptations

Functional adaptation

Bacteria help sense far-red light: loosejaw
 

Retinas of loosejaw dragonfish sense far-red light by incorporating pigments from bacteria it eats.

 
  "The black, loose-jawed dragonfish (Malacosteus niger) is a predatory deep-sea species that normally lives in near darkness at depths of 3,000 to 6,000 feet (915 to 1,830 m). How can they hunt in the dark? By being able to see far-red light.

"Light at the far-red end of the so-called visible spectrum has the longest wavelength of all, around 0.73-0.8 micrometers. Although invisible to the human eye, this type of light can be seen by some animals, including the dragonfish. Behind the dragonfish's eyes is a pair of bioluminescent organs that emit blue-green light. The majority of other bioluminescent creatures in this dark realm also emit bluish light, and have eyes that are sensitive to wavelengths within the blue portion of the visible spectrum.

"A second pair of bioluminescent organs, located beneath the dragonfish's eyes, give off far-red light, which is invisible to nearly all other life in the ocean depths. These organs give the dragonfish an advantage over its competitors, since the far-red light they emit enables the dragonfish to illuminate potential prey and to communicate with others of its own species without betraying its presence.

"But how is the dragonfish able to see far-red-light? In a strange case of 'you are what you eat,' it probably obtains this ability by feeding on tiny crustaceans known as copepods, which have in turn eaten bacteria that can absorb far-red light. As revealed in 1998 by a team of scientists in Britain, including Bristol University researcher Dr. Ron Douglas, the retinae of the dragonfish contain modified versions of bacterial chlorophyll, pigments that can absorb far-red light." (Shuker 2001:18-19)


"Most deep-sea fish have visual pigments that are most sensitive to wavelengths around 460-490 nm, the intensity maxima of both conventional blue bioluminescence and dim residual sunlight. The predatory deep-sea dragon fish Malacosteus niger, the closely related Aristostomias sp. and Pachystomias microdon can, in addition to blue bioluminescence, also emit far-red light from suborbital photophores, which is invisible to other deep-sea animals. Whereas Aristostomias sp. enhances its long-wavelength sensitivity using visual pigments that are unusually red sensitive, we now report that M. niger attains the same result using a derivative of chlorophyll as a photosensitizer." (Douglas et al. 1998:423)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Shuker, KPN. 2001. The Hidden Powers of Animals: Uncovering the Secrets of Nature. London: Marshall Editions Ltd. 240 p.
  • Douglas, R.H.; Partridge, J.C.; Dulai, K.; Hunt, D.; Mullineaux, C.W.; Tauber, A.Y.; Hynninen, P.H. 1998. Dragon fish see using chlorophyll. Nature. 393(6684): 423-424.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Malacosteus niger

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


No available public DNA sequences.

Download FASTA File
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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Malacosteus niger

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 22
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: NNR - Unranked

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: GNR - Not Yet Ranked

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Threats

Not Evaluated
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Importance

fisheries: of no interest
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Wikipedia

Malacosteus niger

The northern stoplight loosejaw (Malacosteus niger) is a species of barbeled dragonfish. The postorbital photophore in this species is larger than in M. australis. It also differs in lateral photophore count, as well as in morphological characters. The maximum known length is 25.6 cm (10.1 in). Its specific epithet niger is Latin for "black".[1]

M. niger occurs in the mesopelagic zone of all oceans.[2] Contrary to barbeled dragonfishes in general, it is not a vertical migrator. While the morphology of M. niger with huge fangs and an enormous gape (as it common names testifies) is typical for its family and suggests adaptations to piscivory, its diet in fact contains a substantial proportion of zooplankton.[3] It is suggested that its dominant feeding mode is searching for zooplanktonic prey (copepods in particular) using bioluminescence to illuminate a small search area, with infrequent encounters with larger prey items. The likely origin of the pigment necessary for detecting its long wavelength bioluminescence are copepods themselves.[3]

References[edit source | edit]

  1. ^ Kenaley, C.P (2007). "Revision of the Stoplight Loosejaw Genus Malacosteus (Teleostei: Stomiidae: Malacosteinae), with Description of a New Species from the Temperate Southern Hemisphere and Indian Ocean". Copeia 2007 (4): 886–900. doi:10.1643/0045-8511(2007)7[886:ROTSLG]2.0.CO;2. 
  2. ^ Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2012). "Malacosteus niger" in FishBase. February 2012 version.
  3. ^ a b Sutton, T. T. (2005). "Trophic ecology of the deep-sea fish Malacosteus niger (Pisces: Stomiidae): An enigmatic feeding ecology to facilitate a unique visual system?". Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers 52 (11): 2065–2013. doi:10.1016/j.dsr.2005.06.011.  edit
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