Scientists view the Australian platypus in a completely new light. Under an ultraviolet lamp, this bizarrely looking creature appears even more strange than normal and glows in a soft greenish-blue hue rather than the typical brown we are used to seeing.
The latest finding has not been found in any other monotreme species – a primitive type of animal – and scientists are wondering why: Have we forgotten an ancient world of fluorescent skins?
“Biofluorescence has now been found in placental flying squirrels from the New World, bag-like opossums from the New World, and the monotreme platypus from Australia and Tasmania,” the authors write.
“These taxa, inhabiting three continents and a variety of ecosystems, represent the main lines of mammals”.
Throughout the centuries biofluorescence has been documented in various plants, fungi, fruits, flowers, insects and birds. But only in recent times have scientists begun to actively search for examples from the animal kingdom. Many of the discoveries made so far were simply coincidental.
For example, in 2015 scientists came across the first fluorescent sea turtle while searching for luminous corals. Two years later, the first fluorescent frog was unexpectedly found, and the team advised others to “go into the field with a UV flashlight”.
Among mammals, the first example of biofluorescence was found in 1983 in the Virginia possum, the only marsupial in North America. But it was not until 2017 that researchers discovered something similar by chance in the North American flying squirrels (Glaucomys), which are counted among the placental mammals.