Pink Manta Ray on Parade!

Apr 30, 2020

By Emma Goldberg has a favorite color: I like blue, my mom likes purple, my brother likes red and one very special manta ray in the Great Barrier Reef loves neon pink!  In fact, this manta ray, named Inspector Clouseau after the well known inspector from the Pink Panther, loves neon pink so much that his whole body is his favorite color!  Even though he was first spotted back in 2015, Inspector Clouseau has only been seen swimming around and showing off his colorful skin about 10 times!   So you can imagine the excitement photographer Kristian Laine felt when he spotted Clouseau on one of his dives. And while it’s fun to imagine a world where we could make our skin color blue or purple or red, Inspector Clouseau is actually a scientific wonder. scientists with ProjectManta first saw Inspector Clouseau, they thought his color might be due to his diet — like the way flamingos turn pink from the shrimp they eat.  They also thought his pinkish hue might be due to a skin infection.  But a skin sample painlessly collected in 2016 ruled out both of these ideas. In the end, the ProjectManta team concluded that Inspector Clouseou’s fancy coloration is due to a genetic mutation that affects how his melanin – the pigment that gives skin its color – is expressed.


And melanin expression isn’t just in manta rays — it also gives you and me our individual skin colors. Mutations related to the melanin gene cause conditions that you might be more familiar with.  Albinism, for example, results from a lack of melanin in the skin, hair or eyes of an animal.  Humans with albinism usually have very pale colored skin, light hair and light eyes.  Another melanin mutation, called melanism, results from an overproduction of melanin and results in a darkening of all body tissues including hair, skin and eyes. 

In the case of Inspector Clouseau, scientists believe he has a mutation called erythrism.  Erythrism gives skin a reddish or pinkish hue and can occur in humans, too, resulting in red hair and freckles.  Erythrism can be spotted across the animal kingdom, from fuschia grasshoppers to “strawberry” snow leopards.  So although Inspector Clouseau might be the only neon pink manta ray in the sea that we know of, he has lots of pink friends on land!

Edited by Sarah Brotman and Lane Scher