First “Glowing” Sea Turtle Found

Oct 7, 2015

David Gruber

By Jane J. Lee

Yes, this sea turtle is glowing neon green and red. No, it’s not radioactive.

The critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle is the first reptile scientists have seen exhibiting biofluorescence—the ability to reflect the blue light hitting a surface and re-emit it as a different color. The most common colors are green, red, and orange.

Biofluorescence is different from bioluminescence, in which animals either produce their own light through a series of chemical reactions, or host bacteria that give off light.

Corals fluoresce, and recent research has found the ability in a number of fish, sharks, rays, tiny crustaceans called copepods, and mantis shrimp. But researchers never expected to find it in a marine reptile. (See pictures of other animals that glow.)

“I’ve been [studying turtles] for a long time and I don’t think anyone’s ever seen this,” says Alexander Gaos, director of the Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative, who was not involved in the find. “This is really quite amazing.”

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4 comments on “First “Glowing” Sea Turtle Found

  • SaganTheCat
    Oct 8, 2015 at 7:40 am

    why did it take so long to find?

    Maybe it hides in colourful coral reefs!

    @OP link :- “[Biofluorescence is] usually used for finding and attracting prey or defense or some kind of communication,” says Gaos. In this instance, it could be a kind of camouflage for the sea turtle. (See pictures of insects that are masters of camouflage.)

    The hawksbill’s shell is very good at concealing the animal in a rocky reef habitat during the day, Gaos explains. “When we go out to catch them, sometimes they’re really hard to spot.”

    The same could be true for a habitat rife with biofluorescing animals—like a coral reef.

    In fact, Gruber pointed out that some of the red on the hawksbill he saw could have been because of algae on the shell that was fluorescing. The green is definitely from the turtle though, he says.

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  • If it is a first then it could be a perfect example of how an endangered species survives, slightly altered, through its particular locacation and diet?

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