The ability to absorb light, transform it, and then reflect it as a different color is called biofluorescence, and it’s relatively rare. Until recently, scientists thought the phenomenon was restricted to only certain fish, crustaceans, and other critters—but a late-night dive near the Solomon Islands revealed the first reptile known to exhibit the ability: the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle.
“This turtle was just hanging out with us, it was in love with the lights, it was hanging out with us and it was glowing neon yellow,” said marine biologist Markus Reymann, who along with fellow researcher David Gruber, discovered the glow-in-the-dark turtle in July.
The two scientists recalled the animal passing through like a brightly-colored UFO. The pair did not capture the animal, but were sure that the bioflurorescence came directly from the animal’s shell and not just from a coating of shiny algae. It is not yet known whether all hawksbill turtles are capable of bioflurorescence. Scientists, including Alexander Gaos of the Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative, believe that the ability may be used by the turtles to camouflage themselves among glowing coral.
“I’ve been [hawksbills] for a long time and I don’t think anyone’s ever seen this,” Gaos told National Geographic. “This is really quite amazing.”