A biofluorescent turtle found in the Solomon Islands over the summer is the world's first known reptile to exhibit the visually stunning trait.
According to National Geographic
, marine biologist David Gruber of City University of New York was on assignment in July observing biofluorescence in small sharks and coral reefs when he stumbled upon the special hawksbill sea turtle. Luckily, he had is underwater camera already running.
"There came out of nowhere this fluorescent turtle," said Gruber. "After a few moments I let it go because I didn't want to harass it."
The turtle had the ability to fluoresce, meaning its head and shell reflected blue light in shades of neon green, red, and orange (biofluorescence, it should be noted, is different from bioluminescence, in which animals emit their own light).
The phenomenon has long been observed in "fish, sharks, rays, tiny crustaceans called copepods, and mantis shrimp," according to NatGeo, however scientists had never before seen it in marine reptiles.
"I've been [studying turtles] for a long time and I don't think anyone's ever seen this," said Alexander Gaos, director of the Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative. "This is really quite amazing."
Gaos conjectured that the colorful markings could be used for communication, attracting prey, or for defensive camouflage. The latter possibility could be especially important, as the hawksbill sea turtle is critically endangered.
After making his discovery, Gruber asked around with the local islanders, and found out that they kept many of the same turtles in captivity. After observing a few young, captive hawksbills, he found they, too, glowed red.
Gruber has said the red color could be part of the turtle, or it could be produced by algae on the turtle's back. The fluorescent green color, however, is definitely part of the turtle, he said.
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