Tag Archives: biofluorescence

Marsupial rave: wombats have glow-in-the-dark fur

Besides wombats, scientists found that many other marsupials are also biofluorescent under UV light.

Ever seen a wombat under a blacklight? Not a lot of people have, it seems — it’s only recently that scientists have found that wombat fur is actually biofluorescent, meaning it absorbs blue light and then re-emits it as the color green. The same investigation found that echidnas, possums, and other mammals are biofluorescent.

An accidental discovery revealed that marsupials must love a good rave

It was just a couple of weeks ago that American researchers at the Field Museum accidentally discovered that platypuses glow in dark/purple when UV light is shone on the peculiar mammal’s fur. Now, a new creature can join that lit club: the wombat.

Biofluorescence has long been known to occur in some insects and sea creatures, but no one really thought of verifying the pink-glowing phenomenon in mammals. Naturally, everyone was pretty amazed — and it turns out biofluorescence in mammals is a lot more common than we thought. At least among Australian marsupials.

Platypuses glow green under UV light. Credit: Mammalia.

Spurred by the serendipitous discovery of the biofluorescent platypus fur, the curators of the Western Australian Museum decided to shine UV light on some of their own museum specimens.

Much to their surprise, out of two dozen mammals in their collection, around a third of them had glowing fur. This includes the platypus, echidna, bandicoots, bilbies, possums, some bats, as well as the iconic wombat.

Most of these animals, including wombats, are either nocturnal or crepuscular (active at dawn or dusk). So perhaps the biofluorescence may improve their survivability, especially since ultraviolet light is more prevalent at dusk and dawn.

“Perhaps they are able to see much more than we are able to see,”  Kenny Travouillon, the Western Australian Museum curator of Mammalogy, told Science Alert.

“Predators don’t seem to glow. I think this is because if predators could be seen, they would lose all chance of catching their prey,” he added.

Then again, a lot of marsupials are nocturnal, so perhaps something else may explain the evolutionary drive for biofluorescence. Since these observations have been made in museum specimens on a tiny sample size, perhaps field investigations could provide more answers. In the future, researchers at the Australian Museum want to do just that with the help of different lights.

biofluorescent turtle

First biofluorescent reptile found is a ‘glowing’ neon red turtle

“Hey, what did you find” “We found a bio-florescent turtle!”, a researcher triumphantly declared. David Gruber, a biologist at City University of New York, and colleagues made the find while diving in the Solomon Islands this July. Previously, researchers have found ever growing evidence of bio-luminescence and bio-fluorescence in the animal kingdom, from coral to seahorses, but this was the first time anyone has laid sight on a glowing reptile.

Glow in the dark animals

You can find bioluminescent life forms everywhere on the planet. On land, glowing species of fungus feed on rotting wood, creating the eerie nighttime phenomenon known as foxfire.  Of course, the most famous luminescent creatures are fireflies. Glow worms are also insects — they’re the larvae of various species of flies and beetles. But the most glowing animals are found in the ocean, not on land. Most of these  creatures live well bellow the water’s surface in the twilight or euphotic zone where sunlight barely creeps in. Some of it does, though. Since light is comprised of many wavelengths, some get absorbed by the sea water (red, orange and yellow) while other frequencies make it through (bluish-green). This light is absorbed by some luminescent creatures, then beamed back at 440 to 479 nanometers.

biofluorescent turtle

Although it takes many guises in nature, bioluminescence serves the three basic purposes of “finding food, finding mates and defending against predators,” says Edie Widder, co-founder, president and senior scientist at the Florida-based Ocean Research and Conservation Association (ORCA). It’s proven to be a good tactic seeing how scientists estimate 80 to 90 percent of deepwater, oceanic life has developed the ability to produce light.

In most cases bioluminescence is generated when a light-emitting molecule, called luciferin, chemically reacts with oxygen in the presence of an enzyme, called a luciferase or a photoprotein.  The emitted light is called ‘cold light’ because it wastes little heat, much like an LED – just better. Biofluorescence is different from bioluminescence, though despite to the untrained eye it may seem the same. Bioluminescent animals produce their own light, while biofluorescent animals simple reflect glowing halos.

Gruber found the biofluorescent turtle completely by accident. When he and colleagues spotted the creature, it looked like an underwater UFO. Later, researchers managed to find other such turtles, called hawksbills, kept by some locals in captivity. After careful study, they found the animals glowed in red.

turtle biofluorescent

LUMINESCENTLABS.ORG VIA DAVID GRUBER

It’s believed the hawkbill evolved this ability for camouflage, which doesn’t sound right if you think about it. During the day, they’re very hard to spot, but the same at night too since the turtles hang out around coral which is florescent as well.

One might wonder what took so long to identify the turtles as florescent. Apparently, in shallow waters  not enough blue light to create the “glow” effect.  When you shine a blue light directly onto their shells, however, it glows in bright neon red and green. Unfortunately, there’s another reason why we’ve barely discovered the first biofluorescent reptile. Hawkbills are endangered and some of the rarest on the planet.

“Why is it that we know so little about these amazing animals?” Gruber asks. With renowned interest, maybe we’ll find out.