Platypuses do it. Opossums do it. Even three species of North American flying squirrel do it. Tasmanian devils, echidnas and wombats may also do it, although the evidence is not quite so robust.
And, breaking news: Two species of rabbit-size rodents called springhares do it. That is, they glow under black light, that perplexing quirk of certain mammals that is baffling biologists and delighting animal lovers all over the world.
Springhares, which hop around the savannas of southern and eastern Africa, weren’t on anyone’s fluorescence bingo card.
Like the other glowing mammals, they are nocturnal. But unlike the other creatures, they are Old World placental mammals, an evolutionary group not previously represented. Their glow, a unique pinkish-orange the authors call “funky and vivid,” forms surprisingly variable patterns, generally concentrated on the head, legs, rear and tail.
Fluorescence is a material property rather than a biological one. Certain pigments can absorb ultraviolet light and re-emit it as a vibrant, visible color. These pigments have been found in amphibians and some birds, and are added to things like white T-shirts and party supplies.
But mammals, it seems, don’t tend to have these pigments. A group of researchers, many associated with Northland College in Ashland, Wis., has been chasing down exceptions for the past few years — ever since one member, the biologist Jonathan Martin, happened to wave a UV flashlight at a flying squirrel in his backyard. It glowed eraser pink.
The researchers then went to the Field Museum in Chicago, armed with curiosity and blacklights. When the team tried a drawer that housed preserved springhares, they beamed back.
“We were equal parts shocked and excited,” said Erik Olson, an associate professor of natural resources at the college and an author of the new paper, published Thursday in Scientific Reports. “We had so many questions.”
To read the entire New York Times article.
Popular Science: Nobody painted these glowing pink springhares—their Day-Glo is all natural
Cool Green Science: When Mammals Glow in the Dark
Nature: Images of the Month: Pink Hare
Smithsonian: This Bouncing African Mammal Glows Under UV Light
Live Science: Glowing Jumping Rodent Discovery