In the waters of the Solomon Islands, sheer chance revealed to science that the Hawksbill sea turtle glows in the dark. While studying other well known fluorescing corals and reef sharks, David Gruber an Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Science at City University of New York (CUNY), utilized a specially equipped camera and serendipitously captured a Hawksbill turtle sporting a stunning array of colors never before observed from any other reptile.
Due to the design of Gruber’s approach, the neon patterns observed on the Hawksbill were due to biofluorescence in which certain wavelengths of light are absorbed by fluorescing protein which then re-emit a different color light. Professor Gruber’s camera was constructed to project blue light wavelengths normally observed in the ocean and was fitted with a yellow filter to specifically capture light re-emitted by fluorescing proteins.
The Hawksbill turtle’s appearance on film was brief. However, Gruber’s team found a local community who kept a small population of Hawksbills. Gruber exposed the Hawksbill to similar conditions in the original underwater experiment, and found they, too, glowed red in the yellow filter.
While many other creatures on land and underwater have demonstrated the luminous trait, this is the first ever observance in a reptile. Hopefully, this new discovery will aide conservation of the critically endangered Hawksbill sea turtle.
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