Platypuses are unique badasses of the animal kingdom. Sporting duck-like bills and venomous spines on their hind-legs, they're semi-aquatic, and one of two mammals left on the planet that lay eggs. And now, a recent study has uncovered that they're also biofluorescent! Is there anything this animal can’t do?
Biofluorescence is a phenomenon whereby fur, or another substance, absorbs light at one wavelength and emits it at another. In the case of the platypus, when studied under a UV light their pelts were shown to emit a blue-green glow. Other hues are common in different animals, for example - the bellies of flying squirrels emit a pink hue.
Wait, more animals can do this? You bet. Sea turtle shells and some fungi have been found to have this quality. In the mammal world, marsupial opossums and placental flying squirrels have biofluorescent qualities. With the addition of the platypus, scientists are beginning to believe this quality is more widespread than previously considered.
You may be wondering what purpose this serves? Well, you’re not alone and scientists are not totally sure... yet. The working hypothesis is that it might be used for communication between species, or for camouflage purposes to help the animals evade predators. But the addition of the platypus to the growing list of animals with this trait is beginning to challenge this thinking. It’s also possible that it serves no real modern day function and is an ancestral trait not yet phased out by evolution.
One thing scientists do know is that further studies of this curious nocturnal creature will be easier to conduct now that we know they have this trait, as UV light can be employed to locate them in their natural habitats.
Image by Jonathan Martin / Northland College