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The platypus glowed in the black light. We don’t know why.



After checking with museum staff, the team went to the basement, found the platypus cabinet, and turned on their special lights. “Sure enough,” Dr. Olson said. They were finally able to examine three types of platypus: a male and a female at the Field Museum, and another male at the University of Nebraska Museum. Everyone emits the same cold light.

This summer, in northeastern Australia, a black light-wielding mycologist discovered a road-killed platypus. Dr. Olsen said that although the discovery was frustrating, “we are happy to know that it has been verified in a wild specimen.”

So why does the platypus fluoresce?

Dr. Olsen said: “We really don’t know.”

Other instances of Lite Brite of life forms have a clear purpose. For example, bioluminescence can help marine life attract prey and find each other in the depths. Hummingbirds obtain information from the ultraviolet light reflected by certain flowers.

However, the fluorescence is somewhat opaque. Thornke Johnson, a sensory biologist at Duke University, said that because this is a natural property of certain materials, “the discovery of fluorescence does not mean it has any specific use.” Instead, he said, this brilliance may have been accidental-“just because it exists there.”

Whether the platypus can sense ultraviolet light or fluorescence, especially under natural light, is unclear. One theory is that the platypus can better avoid ultraviolet-sensitive predators by absorbing and converting ultraviolet rays instead of reflecting ultraviolet rays.

Dr. Olsen said, but this is just a hypothesis: “Our main goal is to prove this feature.” I hope that future research can provide more inspiration. Currently, his team plans to conduct a strategic survey of other nocturnal mammals to see if they can be included in the list.

They may have opened more museum cabinets. “Stay tuned,” he said.


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