Lydia Mäthger

IMG_7157-2Lydia Mäthger
Whitman Scientistdifferent cuttlefish pupil shapescuttlefish W-shaped pupil seen through infra-red illumination camera


Research Statement

Skate Eye

Close-up of skate eye

My research is in the area of animal sensory ecology. I’m particularly interested in visual ecology and animal coloration, particularly the relationship between structure and function, as well as the underlying mechanisms that allow animals to sense the world the way they do. I have worked on a variety of animals, including cephalopods, fish, turtles and birds, and have published a number of papers that quantify the optical, ultrastructural and physiological properties of pigments and structural reflectors in cephalopods and fish. The interdisciplinary nature of my research has promoted interest from researchers in a number of fields outside of biology, including materials science and optical engineering.

My current research focus is on animal pupils. There are a number of animals (aquatic and terrestrial) that have very complex, elaborate pupil shapes, and my current research efforts aim to elucidate what their optical functions are. We use a variety of techniques, including behavioral studies and different optical imaging methods, so that we can begin to understand how the various optical components of the eye affect vision and behavior.


I grew up in a small town east of Berlin, Germany. After completing my Abitur (equivalent of high school), I went to the UK for my undergraduate degree. I completed a BSc in Zoology (1st Class) at the University of Sheffield in 1998. My undergraduate advisor was John Messenger, who introduced me to the fascinating world of sensory biology.

Skate Eyes

Camouflaged skate

The same year, I started my PhD working with Sir Eric Denton FRS at the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth, UK (, affiliated with the University of Sheffield (, where John Messenger remained my advisor. The focus of my research was on the properties of reflective cells in squid. During this time, I was funded by the Gottlieb-Daimler und Karl-Benz Stiftung, Germany. I completed my PhD at the end of 2001.

In 2002, funded by a Royal Society Post-Doctoral Fellowship, I went to work with Justin Marshall at the Vision Touch and Hearing Research Centre, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia (VTHRC; now Queensland Brain Institute). From 2003 to 2004, I was a Post-doctoral fellow in Kerstin Fritsches’ laboratory (also VTHRC). During these years, I was exposed to a variety of research projects, which deepened my fascination for sensory biology and ecology, in particular animal vision, and animal coloration.

I came to the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole in 2004 to work as a Post-doctoral fellow in Roger Hanlon’s group, focusing on camouflage and mechanisms of skin color and pattern changes in cephalopods. I was Research Associate and Assistant Research Scientist in Roger Hanlon’s group until 2014.

In 2015, I started my own research lab.

Google Scholar Citations

squid chromatophores and iridophoressquid chromatophores and blue iridescence white finspot in cuttlefish chromatophores change spectral reflectance from iridophores