Who Had Glow in the Dark Wombats on Their 2020 Bingo Card?

Who Had Glow in the Dark Wombats on Their 2020 Bingo Card?
Image: Dr. Kenny Travouillon/Twitter

Scientists have discovered a number of Australian mammals can glow in the dark when put under a UV light. While Australia is known for the many species of wildlife that can kill you, it seems there are also a few who can glow in the dark.

American researchers first discovered bioluminescence in the Australian platypus, to much surprise. The scientists were initially researching squirrels, which also responded to the UV light, but decided to check their other on-hand specimens which led to the accidental platypus discovery.

According to a report from the ABC, Australian researchers then checked their platypus samples only to find the same thing. When a taxidermied platypus was put under a UV light, its fur emitted a fluorescent green and blue glow.

It gets better. Scientists at the Western Australian Museum then moved on to check other mammal specimens in their archives. They tested a range of animals including moles, wombats, bilbies, armadillos and echidnas. Interestingly, the carnivorous marsupials did not glow under the UV light.

“It probably makes sense, because if their prey can see UV light, they would not be able to hide from them,” Kenny Travouillion, the curator of Mammalogy at the WA Museum, told the ABC.

Dr. Travouillon documented his findings on Twitter, posting images of the stuffed animals under UV lights. Some mammals, like bilbies, had only their ear and tails light up.

Wombats also made the cut, with luminous shades in their fur. I would like one as a pet now.

So, why do they glow?

As to why these animals may have glow in the dark super powers, scientists are still unsure. Sarah Munks, a senior researcher with the School of Natural Sciences at the University of Tasmania, is an expert in platypuses. She told the ABC “all the work done on other species suggests that it is an ancient form of camouflage. It could just be one of these ancestral traits, like humans have remnant tails.”

Dr Travouillon suspects “the benefit is probably so they can see their species from a distance, and they can approach them because they know that it is safe to go towards that animal.”

The scientists noted only a small sample size of mammals have been tested for these signs so far. They are now working to confirm whether this is a species-wide phenomenon. Research teams from both the U.S. and Australia have joined forces to see if they can find a reason for this radiant glow.

Maybe it’s a way of signalling to people that this animal won’t kill you? Although wombats may give it a go if you tempt them.