According to a new study, platypuses can glow in the dark, specifically bright green or cyan under ultraviolet light! The study was published earlier this month in the science journal Mammalia, led by biologist Paula Spaeth Anich from Northland College.
The team analyzed three museum platypus specimens (two males and one female) sourced from the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and the University of Nebraska State Museum. The scientists accidentally discovered that platypus fur absorbs UV wavelengths between 200 and 400 nanometers and then gives off visible light between 500 and 600 nanometers.
The researchers note that both males and females appear to exhibit this characteristic, though the authors advise caution, that the research isn’t peer-reviewed and the sample is tiny. Also, the researchers are “confident that the fluorescence we observed is not a property of museum specimens in general.”
The researchers speculate that platypuses glowing fur could be a way for the species to see and interact with each other at night. “UV absorbance and fluorescence may be particularly important to mammals,” write the researchers.
Believe it or not, the platypus isn’t the only animal that glows in the dark.
The platypus is one of three known bio-fluorescent mammals, the other two being opossums and flying squirrels. It’s worth mentioning, the same team involved in the new study, led by biologist Paula Spaeth Anich from Northland College, were the ones who discovered bio-fluorescence in flying squirrels last year.
In a press release, Anich said that “it was intriguing to see that animals that were such distant relatives also had bio-fluorescent fur.” The authors close their paper with a related question: “Is bio-fluorescence an ancestral mammalian trait?”
That’s where the researchers aim to start next, finding out whether bio-fluorescent fur is more common than we think it is in mammals. It’s already known to be common in fungi, reptiles, and amphibians. So maybe the trait is less rare than we thought?
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