If you’ve never heard of the platypus, or seen it, prepare to have your mind blown. This duck-billed, egg-laying, otter-footed, beaver-tailed mammal is one of the strangest living creatures on this planet. It’s native to Tasmania and eastern Australia, and when European naturalists first encountered it in the 18th century, they ruled it out as fake, claiming it was made from several other animals sewn together. And if that weird history of this very real monotreme, a.k.a. egg-laying mammal, isn’t enough for you, don’t worry. A new discovery has shown it also glows in the dark!
The Platypus Is a Biofluorescent Mammal
The same team of scientists, led by biologist Paula Anich from Northland College, who first discovered that flying squirrels are biofluorescent, wanted to ascertain whether platypuses glow in the dark. Since both creatures are nocturnal-crepuscular mammals that are active during the night and the dim hours of dawn, Paula’s team decided to test whether the platypus would glow too. Needless to say, their experiment was a success.
The otherwise brown fur of the platypus would glow in green or cyan under UV light. The mammal is able to absorb UV wavelengths between 200 and 400 nanometers and then give off visible light of 500 to 600 nanometers. That optical process results in what we know as fluorescence.
A Question of Evolution or Something Else
Since platypuses, flying squirrels, and opossums are the only three known biofluorescent mammals, it’s difficult to tell whether this is the result of evolution or something else. About 150 million years ago, these three mammals came from the same ancestor. However, given that each had to survive the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, they are nothing more than distant relatives at this point. According to biologists, there could be another reason for the similarity in these mammals’ fur fluorescence. They say it could be the result of convergent evolution or, simply put, adapting to common habitats.
Like they said in The X-Files, the truth is out there…