Researchers have discovered an incredible glowing sea turtle, near the Solomon Islands, in the South Pacific.
Scientists diving in the area noticed that the severely endangered hawksbill sea turtle is capable of reflecting blue light, and re-emit it in different colors. This in the first time in history that this property, known as biofluorescence, has been recorded among reptiles.
Marine biologist David Gruber, of the City University of New York, who made this unexpected observation with his team of experts, was actually filming biofluorescent coral reefs and sharks. Suddenly however, a hawksbill sea turtle was observed glowing neon green and red, in a fascinating display of color and light.
As Gruber recalls, the marine reptile looked like an alien spaceship, covered in dazzling hues. The sighting was recorded on video camera, using a yellow filter that identifies fluorescence.
After following and filming the animal for a short while, Gruber finished his diving and shared his experience with the locals. That is how he was introduced to a small community of people who kept a few young hawksbills in captivity.
He discovered that all the reptiles from the group displayed the same fluorescence, being capable of glowing red after absorbing light on their shells.
Biofluorescence had been encountered before among corals, and had also been recently recorded in certain species of fish, rays, sharks, mantis shrimp and copepods (small crustaceans). However, this characteristic had never been identified in marine reptiles.
According to Alexander Gaos, director of the Easter Pacific Hawkbill Initiative, the discovery is startling. He had been studying the species for an extended length of time, but he had never witnessed this behavior.
For now, researchers haven’t come up with an explanation regarding this ability to fluoresce, and are undecided if the trait is only shared by a few hawksbill sea turtles from that particular area. It remains to be seen if other marine populations of this type display the same characteristics.
Usually, biofluorescence is employed by animals in an effort to attract prey, to communicate with each other or to defend themselves against predators. According to researchers, the ability to reflect and re-emit light may function as a camouflage mechanism, allowing the turtles to hide in biofluorescent coral reef.
This discovery has raised a series of other questions, such as whether the turtles can notice the fluorescence or if they ingest certain compounds that give them this ability.
However, studying the marine reptiles might be hampered by the fact that they are on the verge of extinction. In 1970, they were listed as endangered in the Endangered Species Act, and in the last decades, their number has dwindled by almost 90%.
Despite conservation efforts, their population is threatened due to commercial exploitation, incidental capture, egg and meat harvesting, and coral habitat destruction.
Image Source: RantPets