The astonishing discovery was made by a marine biologist working in the Solomon Islands.
David Gruber, a researcher at the City University of New York, was on a night dive when he noticed the turtle emitting strange lights.
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Night dive reveals first biofluorescent turtle
Gruber was filming biofluorescence in sharks and coral reefs when he noticed that a nearby hawksbill turtle was emitting green and red light. Biofluorescence is defined as the ability of an organism to absorb light, change it and emit it in another color, and has been observed in various animals.
While the phenomenon has previously been seen in fish, sharks, corals, jellyfish and mantis shrimp, this is the first time that a reptile has been found to have the capability. Biofluorescence is useful for camouflage, attracting mates or finding prey, but Gruber has not drawn any conclusions on its function in hawksbill turtles.
He told National Geographic that it is too early to conclude as to why the turtles fluoresce, or whether the capability is shared by hawksbill populations around the world.
Decline in turtle populations makes further study difficult
As reported by Jane J. Lee, hawksbill turtles are usually well camouflaged among rocks. “When we go out to catch them, sometimes they’re really hard to spot,” said Alexander Gaos, director of the Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative.
One theory is that biofluorescing allows them to camouflage themselves in an environment of other biofluorescent animals, like a coral reef. Unfortunately for Gruber and the scientific community, it will be hard to investigate the phenomenon.
“It’d be fairly difficult to study this turtle because there are so few left and they’re so protected,” says Gruber. The global population of hawksbill turtles has declined by almost 90% in the past few decades.
Although the hawksbill turtle is one of the most critically endangered animals on Earth, there has been relatively little research on it. One way that scientists hope to better understand the species is to study the closely-related green sea turtle.
Hopefully Gruber and his fellow marine biologists can better understand the species and use their knowledge to aid conservation efforts.