A new shark species discovered in the Gulf of Mexico is small enough to fit in your pocket and cool enough to glow in the dark.
This male American Pocket Shark, or Mollisquama mississippiensis, is 5.6-inches in length and has its own pockets that can squirt out luminous liquid to make it glow in the dark, according to an Associated Press report published Friday.
The newly discovered shark is only the third known shark species scientists have discovered that could glow in the dark, according to R. Dean Grubbsa, Florida State University scientist who was not involved in the research. The other two sharks that can glow in the dark are the previously-known pocket shark and taillight shark.
The only other pocket shark discovered was a female caught in 1979 and is now at the Zoological Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, according to Live Science. (RELATED: PETA Goes After SeaWorld: But Is Orca And Dolphin Captivity Actually Good For Conservation?)
A statement released by Tulane University said the differences between this new shark and the one caught in 1979 are “fewer vertebrae and numerous light-producing photophores that cover much of the body. The two species both have two small pockets that produce luminous fluid (one on each side near the gills).”
“The fact that only one pocket shark has ever been reported from the Gulf of Mexico, and that it is a new species, underscores how little we know about the Gulf,” Henry Bart, director of the Tulane Biodiversity Research Institute said in the University’s statement.
This new pocket shark was caught in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico by a NOAA ship. They were looking to study sperm whale feeding when they caught the American Pocket Shark, according to the statement.
In 2013, Mark Grace of the NMFS Mississippi Laboratories of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found the shark while he was looking over the specimens that were gathered during the NOAA survey. The shark was the last bag he opened from the survey, The Associated Press reported.
Grace said has been in science for 40 years and said he can “usually make a pretty good guess” about what species a marine animal is, but he “couldn’t with this one.” (RELATED: Gigantic Shark Spotted Off The Coast Of Martha’s Vineyard. The Video Is Unbelievable)
Tulane University archived the shark for Grace. Then Grace, along with Henry Bart and Michael Doosey of the Tulane University Biodiversity Research Institute, did a study to determine what species it was. The American Pocket Shark was declared the second of its kind in a 2015 paper.
“In the history of fisheries science, only two pocket sharks have ever been captured or reported,” Grace said. “Both are separate species, each from separate oceans. Both are exceedingly rare.”
After the 2015 paper, Julien Claes, a European expert, did cellular dissection on the pocket tissue of the shark to determine its function, according to the Associated Press.
“He said, ‘Yes, these are the kind of cells that produce luminous fluid.’ So it’s pretty safe to say that’s what the one in Russia does,” Grace said.
Grace noted he was excited about the collaborations: “I don’t get over it. I just remind myself this is one of the great parts of science, to have collaborations like that.”
The journal Zootaxa published the findings online June 18.