They are as cute as springhairs, but their fur looks dull under normal conditions. When cast under UV light, however, their fur comes alive, with vibrant patches of red, orange, and pink. As new research suggests, these organisms are now one of only a handful of mammals known to emit a biofluorescent glow.
Biofluorescence, in which an organism absorbs ultraviolet light and re-casts it as a colored glow, has been documented in fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and even microscopic tardigrades. This gait is rare among mammals, but it does occur, at least in the marsupial oposome, the flying squirrel and, as the world has recently learned, the platypus, of course.
The new research, published today in Scientific Reports, is the first documentation of biofluorescence in Springhurs. This is also the first evidence of this phenomenon in an Old World (ie not from the US) placental mammal.
These kangaroo-like rodents live in southern Africa, where they feed on plants and occasional bugs. Springheets are nocturnal-croupular (active at night and during twilight) and super nervous, never straying too far from their changing trunks. And as new research suggests, they also glow in the dark, for reasons that remain unclear.
The study’s first author, Eric Olson, and an associate professor of natural resources at Northland College in Wisconsin, made the discovery while studying biofluorescence in a flying squirrel at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago with their colleagues. The same investigation led the team, including Northland College biologist Paula Spaeth Anich, to explore biofuels in the plippus.
These scientists are making it their business to explore biofuels in mammals, and they are finding considerable success. His latest finding “further supports the hypothesis that biofluorescence may be ecologically important for nofernal-cerepuscular mammals,” and that the symptom “may be widely distributed [among mammals] as previously thought.” The authors wrote in their study.
Investigations conducted in April 2018 and again in November 2019 indicated this possibility, which revealed a detailed study of 14 museum specimens collected from four countries and six captive animals from the zoo. Two different species of Springhras were analyzed: Pedes sardaster and Pedetus capensis, the latter of which are commonly known as South African springhairs.
When put under UV light, Springhurz’s fur splits into shades of pink, orange and red, but they glow irregularly in clots (which is odd for biofluorescent mammals), mainly their Appears around head, feet, handquers and tail. Biofluorescence peaks at 500 and 650 nanometers were found in sections of highly fluorescent fur, which the researchers described as “funky and vivid”.
These brilliant bright colors are made possible by a class of organic compounds known as porphyrins, which are located on the hair fibers of Springhair. According to research, porphyrin-based biofuels have been observed among some marine invertebrates and birds, as well as flatworms in New Guinea.
Biofluorescence was observed in both males and females alike, implying that this feature is probably not sex-specific. Why Springreys has evolved in this way, scientists are not entirely certain, but they have some ideas.
The study authors wrote, “Springhairs are predominantly solitary and graze in more open areas with sparse vegetation and exposure to predators.” “Thus, we speculate that biofluorescence malfunctions in springhairs may act as a type of camouflage, but this will depend on the UV sensitivity of their predators.”
Scientists are recommending that more research be done to fully understand the ecological importance of biofuels in Springhair and to determine why it is so intriguing. That other mammals may be biofuels remains a distinct possibility. And thank goodness for this – we need more glowing mammals in our lives.