Pocket gophers glow under UV light

Researchers are finding more and more species with a surprising trait—they glow under ultraviolet light. The latest to be discovered is a biofluorescent pocket gopher.

J.T. Pynne, a recent Ph.D. graduate of the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, published the discovery in The American Midland Naturalist. He said he was inspired by previous studies documenting the phenomenon in flying squirrels and opossums.

A pocket gopher glows under ultraviolet light.
Credit: University of Georgia

“A bunch of people, myself included, were curious about other animals,” said Pynne, now a private lands wildlife biologist with the Georgia Wildlife Federation, in a press release. Pynne turned his attention—and his UV flashlight—to the southeastern pocket gopher (Geomys pinetis), the species he focused his graduate work on. Sure enough, it glowed an orange-pink tone. Some Australian mammals, like wombats and bilbies, as well as various birds, salamanders, spiders and scorpions, also biofluoresce.

“So now people have started to ask, why do they fluoresce?” said Warnell professor Steven Castleberry, a co-author. “Whether the fluorescence is a defense mechanism, a communication method, camouflage or simply a trait from earlier eras is anyone’s guess at this point. There’s some speculation and hypotheses, but nobody really knows the truth.”

Read more from the UGA.

Header Image: Southeastern pocket gophers glow under ultraviolet light. Credit: John Trent via iNaturalist