For creatures that live underwater, it can be hard to get light, so many marine species have developed specializations to make their own light, a trait called bioluminescence. Others repurpose the light that does get through to them, sending it out in different colors, which is known as biofluorescence. Recently, researchers with the Museum made the first observation of biofluorescence in a wild sea turtle—one which glowed in bright neon hues when viewed under a blue light.
Previously, biofluorescence has been observed in many marine creatures, including corals and fishes. But late last year, marine biologist David Gruber, a professor at Baruch College and a research associate at the Museum, captured the first footage of a sea turtle exhibiting the trait.
While the garishly colored light produced by biofluorescence is usually not visible to the human eye, the use of specialized blue excitation lights and green emission filters can reveal it. On a night dive in the Solomon Islands, Gruber encountered an endangered hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) that swam near the blue LED light he was using to excite biofluorescence in nearby corals. To his surprise, the turtle also lit up, exhibiting bright shades of neon green and red. The results of further study on the phenomena were published in the journal American Museum Novitates by Gruber and co-author John Sparks, curator in the Museum’s Department of Ichthyology.
Video: National Geographic