September 30, 2015
One of the most stunning miracles of biology is the ability of certain animals in extreme climates to glow in brilliant color. Whether it's the chemical reactions of bioluminescence or the biofluorescent effects of light absorbed and re-emitted, this is an adaptation that never ceases to amaze both scientists and people who simply love shiny things.
If you love shiny things and turtles, you are are about to reach a state of brief but total contentment.
As part of a summertime study in the Solomon Islands, marine biologist David Gruber was investigating biofluorescence in sea creatures from jellyfish and coral to small sharks. At one point, Gruber encountered what he described as an "alien spaceship" swimming alongside him. Upon closer inspection, the glowing creature was a hawksbill turtle, the first known case of a reptile displaying biofluorescence.
Footage from the exploration was released for the first time this week by National Geographic in the video below.
The hawksbill turtle, a species critically endangered by climate change, is one of more than 200 species that scientists have observed showing bioluminescence, according to CNN.
Different species use the trait for different purposes. While it acts as a form of sunscreen for coral and as a lure of prey for some fish and sharks, Gruber said it's still too early to understand what purpose it serves for the hawksbill turtle.
Fortunately, the species gained greater protection under a massive new marine sanctuary announced this week by New Zealand to preserve the region's unique wildlife and geology.