Relevance of red fluorescence in coral reef fishes

This is our official "red fluorescence in reef fish" site

The colourfulness of marine fish can only be seen in shallow water, because water absorbs very short (UV) and long (red) within a distance of a few meters. This only leaves intermediate wavelengths (blue-green) that are scattered, but not absorbed as much. This explains why deep water appares blue-green and why everything looks pale blue-greenish when diving below 15 m. This fact has contributed to the assumption that red does not play an important role in marine fish behaviour and ecology. Red is, however, abundant in deeper water, where red fluorescent members of all major phyla contribute to a red glow on the reef. More surprisingly, we also found a number of marine fish to fluoresce in red. Moreover, they seem to do so in patterns suggestive of a function in communication both between and within species.

Here, we want to elucidate the function and mechanisms behind red fluorescence in fish. The key question is: Can they see it, and do they use it? In other words: is there an adaptive benefit associated with the production of red fluorescent tags. This research programm is supported by a generous Reinhard Koselleck grant from the German Science Foundation (DFG) and will run for 7 years.

Starting August 2009, this site will be regularly updated with news, pictures, useful links and practical tips.


Both laboratory and field work is conducted to elucidate these questions. We cooperate with marine research stations at the Red Sea (Egypt) and in the Great Barrier Reef (Australia). We also work in Tübingen using our own experimental marine aquarium systems. The fishes we work on include gobies, triplefins, wrasses and pipefishes.













Key publications

Press Release: Glowing red in the big blue (Published 16 July 2014)


Melissa G. Meadows , Nils Anthes , Sandra Dangelmayer , Magdy A. Alwany , Tobias Gerlach , Gregor Schulte , Dennis Sprenger , Jennifer Theobald , Nico K. Michiels:

Red fluorescence increases with depth in reef fishes, supporting a visual function, not UV protection (DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2014.1211), Published 16 July 2014 [Proceedings B]



Tobias Gerlach , Dennis Sprenger , Nico K. Michiels: Fairy wrasses perceive and respond to their deep red fluorescent coloration (DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2014.0787), Published 28 May 2014 [Proceedings B]



Michiels, NK et al., Red fluorescence in reef fish: a novel signalling mechanism?, BMC Ecol. 2008 Sep 16;8(1):16. (doi:10.1186/1472-6785-8-16) [Open Access]


Also check our publication list


DFG Reinhard Koselleck project to Nico K. Michiels for 7 years (2009-2016)