The Suitcase Lady

Glowing

March 30, 2021, 8:54 pm

Easter is almost upon us, and rabbits are on our minds. What better time to talk about a recent scientific discovery, a rabbit-like creature that glows in the dark. For real.

Getting a glow on in the animal world is not uncommon. Fish and other sea creatures in the dark zones of the ocean do it all the time. And summer night skies are lighted up by fireflies flashing signals to their potential mates. But mammals have never been known to be flashy…until now.

Jonathan Martin is a biology professor at Northland College on the shores of Lake Superior in Ashland, Wisconsin. One night he was flashing a U.V. light around while taking a nighttime hike. Much to his surprise, a flying squirrel glowed bright pink.

This serendipitous discovery led him to start shining his U.V. light on other mammal species to see if they would fluoresce as well. He soon discovered that opossums got a glow on, too.

A trip to the Field Museum in Chicago to check out their preserved specimens followed. One of Dr. Martin’s associates, Professor Paula Spaeth Anich, describes the outcome. “We pulled the monotreme (egg-laying mammals) drawer, and we shined our ultraviolet light on the platypuses. And they were incredibly, vividly fluorescent green and blue.”

More drawers were opened including one that contained preserved springhares, a rabbit-like African rodent. Their fur glowed a bright pink-orange color. Wanting to know if living springhares also glowed, the team contacted zoos that had them in residence. Black lights were shined, and the springhares put on a light show.

Now the next big question is why do these nocturnal mammals shine? Theories abound, but the answer remains elusive. What is known is this…nature never fails to astonish.

Photo: Orlando Sentinel


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