Australia is known for some of world’s most unique animals, from nightmare-fueling arachnids to cute and cuddly-looking koala bears. Now we can add a new superlative to that list: Australia is home to the world’s most luminescent marsupials.
A study recently published in Mammalia details how US scientists accidentally discovered the Australian platypus can glow in the dark. Further experiments at the Western Australian Museum have found this feature extends to Australian mammals and marsupials, too.
As the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports, Kenny Travouillon, curator of Mammalogy at the museum, was immediately piqued by the study and went looking for an ultraviolet light to test it out himself.
“We borrowed it and turned off the lights in the collection and looked around for what was glowing and not glowing,” Travouillon told the ABC. “The first one we checked was the platypus obviously. We shone the light and they were also glowing, it confirmed the research.”
According to CNET, Travouillon and his team found marsupial moles, bilbies and wombats glowed like the platypus in the UV light.
“After platypus was shown to glow under UV light, couldn’t resist trying bilbies… their ears and tails shine bright like a diamond! #bilby #uv” Travouillon posted to Twitter.
A researcher in Tasmania followed up by checking fresh and frozen specimens of sugar glider, ringtail possum, and eastern barred bandicoot with. aUV light.
“The bandicoot glowed bright pink on its flanks-nothing from the other two,” @t_mcachan wrote on Twitter.
“I was already convinced bandicoots were the best, now one more reason!! Hehe,” Travouillon replied.
“To be fair, platypuses are actually the best, but bandicoots are not far behind,” the Tasmanian clapped back.
Travouillon said he tried the UV light on many specimens in the museum’s collection that did not fluoresce,
“It seems most that worked were nocturnal,” he posted.
This is a fascinating discovery, but more studies are needed to show why these particular marsupials glow.
“The benefit is probably so they can see their species from a distance and they can approach them because they know that it is safe to go towards that animal,” Travouillon told the ABC.
Maybe. Maybe not.
Michael Bok, who according to his Twitter profile is a “Researcher in @LundVision interested in the evolution of vision in invertebrates (mantis shrimp, fan worms),” warns that the significance of UV fluorescence may be little if the same lighting conditions do not exist in the animal’s habitat, or other members of the species cannot detect the glow.
“Please be careful about applying ecological or visual relevance to this. Many biological materials fluoresce, but the lighting conditions where it is visible to anything are incredibly unnatural. It is extremely implausible that this is a visual signal,” Bok wrote.
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