Tasmanian Devils Added to List of Animals that Glow in the Dark

An Ohio zoo team made the discovery after reading about recent biofluorescent marsupial findings.
Chris Young

Researchers at Toledo Zoo in the United States discovered Tasmanian devils glow under ultraviolet light only weeks after the same phenomenon was found to occur in wombats, platypuses, and bilbies, ABC News reports.

Ohio-based Toledo Zoo posted the discovery on their Facebook page alongside a statement saying they believed they were the first in the world to document this phenomenon in Tasmanian devils.


Glow-in-the-dark animals

Biofluorescence is a glow-in-the-dark phenomenon that occurs when light waves are absorbed and re-emitted. In animals, it is typically caused by protein or other tissues that form a part of the organism's skin.

"In the case of the Tasmanian devil, the skin around their snout, eyes, and inner ear absorbs ultraviolet light and then reemits it as blue visible light," the Toledo Zoo's Facebook post reads.

"It is unclear whether this instance of biofluorescence serves any ecological purpose or is simply happenstance," the post continues.

Biofluorescence is known to occur in plants and insects. However, it is most prevalent in marine life living in the darkness of the deep sea. Until very recently, it was unknown that it could occur in Australian animals and marsupials.

The team at Toledo Zoo became curious after reading about the very recent discovery that platypuses display biofluorescence under UV light. 

"When platypuses were recently found to be biofluorescence, it got us pretty excited to try and discover this in other animals, especially in Australian mammals," Jacob Schoen, a technician with the Toledo Zoo Conservation, told ABC News.

A 'really exciting discovery'

When the team at Toledo Zoo successfully observed biofluorescence in a platypus they had on display, they moved onto another Australian mammal — the Tasmanian devil.

The team was shocked to discover the glow-in-the-dark phenomenon on their first attempt. 

Associate Professor Menna Jones, from the University of Tasmania, told ABC News that there is a lot still to discover about the biology of the newfound biofluorescence in mammals and marsupials.

"I think it's a really exciting discovery because it indicates that Tasmanian devils could have a broader sensory spectrum that we, as humans, weren't aware of previously," she explained.

Some bird species use biofluorescence to attract their mate, whereas some deep-sea creatures use it to attract and trap prey. The team at Toledo Zoo say they are keen to investigate their findings further to discover whether there is any evolutionary purpose to biofluorescence in Tasmanian devils.

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