The Toledo Zoo discovered an incidence of biofluorescence in their Tasmanian devils — the first documented instance in the marsupials

By Eric Todisco
December 17, 2020 01:27 PM
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Tasmanian Devil
| Credit: Jake Schoen/The Toledo Zoo

The Toledo Zoo has made a shocking discovery about Tasmanian devils — they can glow in the dark!

The Ohio-based zoo announced its findings in a Facebook post on Dec. 5, marking the first documented case of biofluorescence in the marsupials.

"Biofluorescence refers to the phenomenon by which a living organism absorbs light and reemits it as a different color," the zoo wrote. "In the case of the Tasmanian devil, the skin around their snout, eyes, and inner ear absorbs ultraviolet light (a type of light that is naturally abundant, yet invisible to humans) and reemits it as blue, visible light."

The zoo said that biofluorescence has occurred in other animals native to Australia, such as the platypus and wombat, as well other animals including as the Ohio native Virginia opossums and southern flying squirrels.

Due to Tasmanian devils' primarily nocturnal habits, they may not glow in the dark while out in the wild, according to the zoo.

Tasmanian Devil
| Credit: Getty
Tasmanian Devil
| Credit: Getty

Jacob Schoen, a technician with the Toledo Zoo Conservation, told Australian Broadcasting Corp that he discovered that Tasmanian devils are biofluorescent by using a special camera that revealed glowing blue eyes, ears and snout.

“It was pretty shocking when we saw it," he told the outlet. "We went into it not expecting much and it was pretty exciting."

Leo Smith, a University of Kansas biologist and expert in biofluorescence, told NPR that the purpose of the trait in mammals remains unclear.

"It's not something that you can necessarily come up with a really good explanation for why it might be there or what could be the advantage," said Smith. "Like a lot of things just evolve and they're not good or bad—  they're just whatever."

Smith also said that the implications from the monumental discovery can go well beyond nature.

"We've actually taken these molecules and done really important things with them," he told NPR.