The Inspector Clouseau or the strange case of the pink manta
A few days ago, a strange photo was captured by the photographer Kristian Laine. He could see (and photograph) a pink reef manta (Manta alfredi) in its ventral part while he was practicing free diving in the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. At first, the photographer himself believed that it was a problem with his camera or with the strobes. But no, the camera worked perfectly and what the photographer saw was effectively a pink manta. More specifically, it was a manta that began to be seen in the area in 2015, and has been seen fewer than 10 times since then. It has been named as Inspector Clouseau by the researchers, in honour of the mythical character of the adventures of the Pink Panther.
But what has caused this peculiar pigmentation?
Indeed, “Professor Clouseau” is a manta with a strange pink colour in its ventral part. This strange individual has been studied by the scientists of the research group “Project Manta” who have confirmed that the colour is real, although the mechanisms that have altered its colour are still unknown. At first they believed that it could be an infection in the skin or due to diet, similar to how flamingos get their colour by feeding on small crustaceans, but in 2016 thanks to new research and a biopsy that could be extracted from the animal, these two possibilities were ruled out. The main theory that researchers now handle is that this individual could have a mutation that affects the expression of melanin or pigment in their skin.
Solomon David, aquatic ecologist at Nicholls State University of Louisiana, suspects that it could be a mutation called erythrism, which makes the pigmentation of an animal’s skin reddish or, in some cases, pink. Other best known genetic mutations in an animal’s pigment can make them melanocytic (black) or albino (white).
In the case of reef mantas, normally the most common pattern they present is a combination of white (ventral part) and black (dorsal part), to camouflage whether they see it from above or from below.
In this case, it is also unknown if its coloration can affect its way of life in the wild, but on the other hand, understanding this animal could help to take another step in the knowledge of the coloration of these precious animals.
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