Scientists capture first footage of biofluorescent turtle (Video)

David Gruber
© David Gruber

From glowworms to comb jellies, there are a number of creatures in nature that glow with the magic light of bioluminescence, which is a chemical reaction created within the organism to create light. It's a different process than biofluorescence, which is not chemically based but is an organism's ability to absorb blue light and emit it as red, orange or green. Now, scientists swimming off Nugu Island, one of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, have apparently discovered what they are calling the first instance of a biofluorescent turtle found in the wild.

In the video below, David Gruber, an associate professor of biology at Baruch College and Markus Reymann, director of TBA21-Academy talk about their short encounter with a hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricate) that was glowing green and red. According to LiveScience, they chanced upon the 3-foot long female turtle, who appears to be almost of adult age, when they were diving to photograph coral with blue lights.

"This turtle almost seemed completely attracted to the blue lights that we were filming with, and just swam right into me," says Gruber, who marvels at how peaceful the turtle's behaviour was. He goes on to note that scientific study of biofluorescence has taken off in the last decade, since scientists have turned their attention upon this phenomenon:

Scientists have only tuned into biofluorescence in the last ten years. And as soon as we started tuning into it, we started to find it everywhere. First, it was in corals and jellyfish, and it was in fish, and there it was, this UFO [turtle].

Researchers still aren't sure why biofluorescence exists, but Gruber speculates that:

It could be a way for them to communicate, for them to see each other better, [or] to blend into the [biofluorescent] reefs. It adds visual texture into the world that's primarily blue.

One thing is for certain, though: these turtles are critically endangered, no thanks to climate change, habitat loss, illegal poaching and ending up as bycatch from destructive fishing practices. For these beautiful turtles and many other endangered species, it's a precarious time where efforts to save them need to be ramped up, before they are lost forever. More over at LiveScience.

Tags: Animals | Endangered Species | Oceans | video


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