For the first time ever, scientists have discovered a turtle that exhibits biofluorescence, meaning it can emit light in varying degrees of color. Furthermore, this isn't some new species of turtle, but rather a hawksbill sea turtle off the coast of the Solomon Islands.
Discovered by marine biologist David Gruber of the City University of New York, this unique hawksbill sea turtle reflects incoming blue light in an array of red, green, and orange light that lends to its ethereal appearance. Gruber and his team discovered the glowing turtle completely by accident while studying coral in the area.
The hawksbill sea turtle has always been something of a curiosity to both scientists and conservationists. With just a few thousand breeding females left in the world, they are listed as a critically endangered species. However, it seems the hawksbill has much more of a story to tell before it disappears forever.
Unlike bioluminescence, in which an animal produces its own light through chemical reactions, the hawksbill absorbs light and emanates it. Although Gruber and his team believe the reds that the turtle emits are due to bioluminescent algae, the greens are definitely from the turtle. As to what the turtle uses its biofluorescence for, that remains the mystery. In fact, all of biofluorescence is nature's most recent and most fascinating mystery. "It's a bit like a mystery novel," Gruber said. "It started with jellyfish and coral, and the fluorescent molecules jellyfish and coral create has lead to monumental breakthroughs in biomedical science."
"The ocean is the perfect place to evolve these kinds of fluorescent molecules because it is almost completely blue," he continued. "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."
Early studies believe it was a way for animals to signal each other when displayed in fish while predators use it to attract prey, but none of those reasons quite fit why a turtle would use it. Gruber has speculated that the turtles are using this biofluorescence as a form of camouflage, in which the varying colors shield them from predators among the colored coral.