Remember that glowing night scene in Avatar when the two blue aliens bonded under Pandora’s magical forest? I was hypnotized.  I wanted it to exist on Earth. I wanted to be there. It reminds me of my childhood: sitting under the glowing blue Christmas tree lights,  chasing after fireflies with my grandparents in New York, carrying around my Glo Worm doll (please tell me you had one too.). I’ve started to compile a list of places and things that exist on Earth which glow in the same magical Pandora-esque way. To please the child within.

 

TURTLES

Newest discovery, by  David Gruber, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, shows that hawksbill sea turtles bio-fluoresce! Read more.

SCORPIONS

ARX3PR Scorpion (Hadruus arizonensis) under a black light. Image shot 2004. Exact date unknown.

ARX3PR Scorpion (Hadruus arizonensis) under a black light. Image shot 2004.

During an entomology class in college I discovered scorpions glow in the dark under UV light. Overturn any number of rocks and see what you find! Why would scorpions glow? Apparently David Gaffin has figured out some answers. “Gaffin and co-workers have tested scorpion activity under different light wavelengths (including UV-light) with eyes covered or not. The results suggest that scorpion cuticular fluorescence actually may be involved in their perception of light and contributes to orientation and light-avoidance behavior (e.g. helps the decision to stay in their burrow until outside light conditions are optimal for avoiding predators etc.).” Take a look at the article in Discover Magazine.

 

OWLS

Owl Banding on Vancouver Island BC, Canada.

Photo snagged from Glenn Bartley

When I was a field biologist studying birds, I was told owl wing feathers glow under UV light. I didn’t believe it, so  I looked it up and sure enough it is a novel technique scientists use to age juvenile owls. You an also read about it in this scientific publication.

You can imagine that trying to assess the quality of feathers under dim light from headlamps, incandescent or fluorescent bulbs is something of a challenge, but until the mid 1990’s, this was simply how it was done. In 1982, researcher, Bruce A. Colvin discovered that porphyrin in the newly molted feathers of Barn Owls fluoresced under UV light. This organic compound fades over time and with exposure to light, making different generations of feathers easily identified using a UV light.” -Ann Nightingale

 

CORAL REEFS

I recently watched a PBS documentary showing coral reefs fluorescing under UV light! “There are several theories provided by scientists, and perhaps the most likely reason is that it acts as a kind of “sun block” for the coral protecting the zooxanthallae inside the coral from the harmful rays of the sun . Marine Biologists say that this property could perhaps protect shallow coral from bleaching or provide deeper coral the ability to absorb the UV light from the sun and reflect it back to the zooxanthallae allowing them to photosynthesize in the absence of sufficient sunlight.” Being a diver, this makes me want to go night diving immediately. Who is with me?

 

FLOWERS

floweruv

From R-L: The same flower with human vision, only UV vision (bright = UV), simulated bee vision (UV+G+B), simulated bird vision (tetrachromatcic: UV+R+G+B). (Photos: (c) Dr Klaus Schmitt, Weinheim, Germany, uvir.eu ) See more photos here.

Bees see flowers in a much different cloak than our human eye can detect.  The guide patterns are caused by UV-absorbing substances and provide visual pollinating clues directing the bees to the center where they can find the flower’s pollen.

 

BIOLUMINESCENCE 

squid

To see more beautiful photos, click the squid above.

National Geographic did an awesome article about bioluminescence, called Luminous Life in their March 2015 issue. “Evolving to make light seems to be relatively easy—it has happened independently in at least 40 different lineages.” -Olivia Judson

If you ever get a chance to go out on the water during a new moon and look at the bioluminescence, you will be blown away. It truly is a magical experience.

There are way more fluorescing treasures I did not highlight here, so be sure to take a look. With all this glowing talk I feel inspired to throw a black light party for the humans!

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