Letters: Transparency

“Imagine living in a shadowy environment with nothing to hide behind and where predators can approach you suddenly from above or below or from the side at any time of day or night.”
Graphic: Winters Express
Graphic: Winters Express

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In nature, some organisms are transparent. Think of jellyfish and ghost shrimps. Transparency can be achieved because the refractive index of animal tissue (how fast light travels through it) is very similar to the refractive index of water, so without a pigmented exterior or interior light does not get reflected; it can just pass through the animal like glass. As a consequence, transparency is mostly restricted to aquatic animals, and those that live at mid-level depths in a state of perpetual twilight. It works best in animals that have thin sheets of muscle, not in bulky organisms. Being transparent is difficult to carry off, however, because gut contents and eye pigmentation are not transparent and can give you away. But it does work. Imagine living in a shadowy environment with nothing to hide behind and where predators can approach you suddenly from above or below or from the side at any time of day or night. Then it is worth being transparent, but at the cost of not eating greedily, using little muscle and, as a result, moving slowly and cautiously. But without transparency, your days are numbered. Very few land animals are transparent. TIM CARO]]>

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