This 'Glowing' Sea Turtle Is The World's First Known Biofluorescent Reptile

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Photo Credit: Luminscentlabs.org via David Gruber

When the team of marine biologists led by David Gruber of the City University of New York headed to Solomon Islands in the South Pacific in late July, they were hoping to film some biofluorescent sharks and coral reefs. What they had never expected to find was the world's first-known biofluorescent reptile.

Gruber, who released the video and images of the 'glowing' turtle on September 28, says the encounter happened during a night swim. The researchers were in the middle of filming when they suddenly noticed a beautiful fluorescent turtle that resembled an "alien (space)craft with a patchwork of neon green and red all over its head and body."

Image Credit; Dailymail.co.uk

Identified as the hawksbill sea turtle, it is the first known reptile to exhibit biofluorescence - the ability to absorb light, transform it and then emit it as a different color. This is different from bioluminescent animals that produce their own light through unique chemical reactions or by hosting light-transmitting bacteria.

While researchers have recently discovered some biofluorescent fish, sharks, rays and even tiny crustaceans, they had never seen a marine reptile with the capability. According to Gruber, the ocean provides the perfect environment to evolve these kinds of fluorescent molecules. The researcher says "The ocean absorbs almost every other color except for blue -- so these animals have been creating ways to take in that blue light and transform into other colors." The most common transformations are green, red and orange.

Photo Credit: Aqua.org

Gruber says he followed the beautiful reptile for a few minutes before it disappeared into the deep dark depths of the ocean. While the team did not encounter any more hawksbill sea turtles in the water, they did get an opportunity to examine a few captive specimens up close and observe them turning red.

The marine biologist says this discovery has left him with more questions than answers. He wants to know if the turtle can see its own glow. He is also curious if the biofluorescence is caused by certain chemical compounds in the reptile's diet or if the marine animal has the capability of producing the compounds on its own.

Researchers are not sure why the hawksbill sea turtle and other marine animals have developed this skill. They speculate that it could be a defense mechanism or a clever way to find and attract prey. In some cases, it could also be a way to communicate.

Photo Credit: Luminscentlabs.org via David Gruber

Alexander Gao, director of the Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative, who has been studying the turtles for many years, believes in the turtle's case it may be a kind of camouflage.

Unfortunately, the team will not be able to research the hawksbill sea turtle to help solve the mysteries. That's because the gorgeous reptiles that have been incessantly hunted down for their decorative shells are currently on the critically endangered list. Gruber says that instead, he will try to get the answers from the marine reptile's closest relative, the green sea turtle, that also happens to be endangered, just not critically!

Resources: nationalgeographic.com,cnn.com, washingtonpost.com

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1197 Comments
  • #turtle lover!!Monday, May 20, 2019 at 9:43 am
    Wow! I love turtles that glow! I wish I had a pet turtle that could glow! That would be AWESOME!!!!!
    • panda123456
      panda123456Friday, April 26, 2019 at 9:58 am
      wow who would know turtles could glow
      • panda123456
        panda123456Friday, April 26, 2019 at 9:58 am
        but reall isnt it crazy how they can glow
      • turtlesrescue5dFriday, January 11, 2019 at 9:17 am
        They are so adorable, I personaly love the.
        • luni99Monday, December 3, 2018 at 11:32 am
          are there any black turtles???????
          • sayaFriday, November 16, 2018 at 5:23 am
            i love this
            • parisMonday, November 12, 2018 at 7:53 am
              love turtles and doing a report about it to
              • Reptile lover:)Tuesday, October 30, 2018 at 5:14 pm
                I love turtles
                • Reptile lover:)Tuesday, October 30, 2018 at 4:39 pm
                  I love turtles and glowing stuff.
                  • #MermaidSquadWednesday, October 24, 2018 at 8:16 am
                    Wow! Cool!
                    • konan1456
                      konan1456Thursday, September 27, 2018 at 9:53 am
                      awsome !