Biological signals based on color patterns are well known, but some animals communicate by producing patterns of polarized light. Known biological polarizers are all based on physical interactions with light such as birefringence, differential reflection or scattering. We describe a novel biological polarizer in a marine crustacean based on linear dichroism of a carotenoid molecule. The red-colored, dichroic ketocarotenoid pigment astaxanthin is deposited in the antennal scale of a stomatopod crustacean, Odontodactylus scyllarus. Positive correlation between partial polarization and the presence of astaxanthin indicates that the antennal scale polarizes light with astaxanthin. Both the optical properties and the fine structure of the polarizationally active cuticle suggest that the dipole axes of the astaxanthin molecules are oriented nearly normal to the surface of the antennal scale. While dichroic retinoids are used as visual pigment chromophores to absorb and detect polarized light, this is the first demonstration of the use of a carotenoid to produce a polarizing signal. By using the intrinsic dichroism of the carotenoid molecule and orienting the molecule in tissue, nature has engineered a previously undescribed form of biological polarizer.
Funding of this work was provided by US Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR FA9550-09-1-0149), Asian Office of Aerospace Research and Development (AOARD-094073), the US National Science Foundation (NSF IOS0721608) and the Australian Research Council.
- © 2012.