A previously unknown feat for a reptile, scientists discover the world’s first glow-in-the-dark turtle while out for a night dive near Solomon Islands. This is the first time a turtle has shown itself to hold biofluorescent qualities.
- The hawskbill sea turtle is the first reptile to show biofluorescence
- It was previously believed that it was only possible in corals, fish, small sharks, crustaceans and shrimp
- The hawksbill turtle population has seen a 90% decline in the past couple of decades
- Researchers will need to study the green sea turtle, its closest relative
Biofluorescence has been defined as the ability of absorbing light, transforming it and re-emitting it in a different color, such as green, red or orange. It should be noted that it’s different from bioluminescence, which is an animal’s property to produce light on its own due to a host bacteria and certain chemical reactions.
Marine biologist David Gruber and his team from the City University of New York were swimming through the darkened depths of the Solomon Sea when a chance encounter brought then an unexpected discovery 40 minutes later. A hawksbill turtle slowly moved in front of his camera, and displayed illuminating properties across its shell, glowing as well in the dark as the corals around it.
For 5 minutes, Gruber followed the reptile through the waters until he was forced to let it go back alone into the dark depths beyond his sight. The purpose was to not harass the sea turtle, which has been recognized as being a highly endangered species. Over the past couple of decades, hawksbill turtles have seen a 90% decrease in their population.
Even so, they apparently have been remarkably mysterious creatures. The marine biologist used a yellow filter on the camera to capture the beautiful lights in intricate patterns across the turtle’s shell and head. It displayed a mix of both green and red, quite uncommon for most biofluorescent animals, who usually display just one.
The blue ocean was an excellent source of light that prompted the turtle to emit different colors through the pitch black of the waters through the night, according to Gruber. It’s the perfect light environment that would fuel the biofluorescent quality in hawksbill sea turtles.
It has carved the fact in stone that this particular species of turtles have the ability to fluoresce. After studying a small community of the endangered reptile, however, they found that they are able to only glow red. The mix of colors on the turtle’s shell near Solomon Islands might have been due to the green glowing algae on its shell.
That hints to the possibility that the hawksbill turtle uses its glow-in-the-dark properties to camouflage and blend itself with the environment. Previous to this finding, it has been believed that biofluorescent traits were found only in corals, fish, sharks, some crustaceans and mantis shrimp.
Due to the unfortunate fact that the hawksbill sea turtle is endangered, extensive studies are near impossible. However, researchers will direct their attention to its closest relative, the green sea turtle, in search for similar abilities.
Image source: underwaterfestival.org