When marine biologist David Gruber was filming some coral off the coast of the Solomon Islands in July 2015, he suddenly saw a bright red and green “spaceship” come towards him and under his camera. Gruber and his fellow divers quickly realised that it was a bioflourescent turtle, the first one to be discovered.
Bioflourescence is a relatively new phenomenon that has been found by scientists studying marine life. Biologists are astounded at the extent of bioflouresence found in the oceans. Many plants, fish and even sharks exhibit bioflourescence. Gruber and his colleagues described more than 180 speciesof bioflourescent life in a single paper that came out of a marine expedition in early 2014.
Bioflourescent organisms glow by absorbing light that falls on them, transforming it and emitting light of a different colour. It is different from bioluminescence, which is light produced due to chemical reactions in plant or animal bodies.
In general, when bioflourescent molecules absorb photons from high energy wavelengths, such as those from blue light, the electrons in the molecule are excited and get bumped up to an high energy state. But all such electrons have a tendency to return to their natural state. They do so by remitting photons of lower energy as red or green light.
To see bioflourescence in marine animals, biologists have filmed them in blue lights replicating the blue underwater world and captured the images through yellow filters that show up the fluorescence.
The discovery of so much bioflourescence in the natural world is leading scientists to probe further – to find out what molecules are responsible for the glowing and how the phenomenon influences functions, behaviour and interactions among plants and animals.