Surprising Discovery: Puffin Beaks Glow Under UV Light

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Ph.D. student Jamie Dunning at the University of Nottingham remembered what a colleague has told him about crested auklet feathers. He said that under UV light, they would glow. So, when Jamie studied a dead puffin for genetics, he shone a black light on the Atlantic puffin and made a surprising discovery. The beak was the one glowing like a Christmas tree!

Puffins are Biofluorescent

Puffins are related to auklets, so initially, Dunning hoped to see the glowing feathers, but when he saw the beak glowing, he was taken aback:

“I was so excited. It was completely undocumented.”

This animal is biofluorescent, reflecting the blue light and re-emitting it as a different color – most of the times as green, red or orange.

Worldwide, there are 180 known species that emit a luminous glow. The majority are sharks, corals and marine animals. And now, puffins are added to the list!

A Live Puffin Got Special Sunglasses

Immediately after the discovery, Dunning started writing a study for publication, which it reached Tony Diamond, who is an ornithologist (University of New Brunswick, Canada).

Diamond stated that he has seen this phenomenon a few decades before, but he didn’t think of writing about it. Now, he wishes to send Dunning his older data and combine the results of their findings. Now, their studies are reviewed at a scientific journal, after which they will be published.

To test if puffin beaks also glow when the birds are alive, Dunning needed to shine a UV light on it, and that could damage their eyes. So, he called at Goldsmiths, University of London and asked the experts for this:

“I couldn’t believe I was ringing them up to ask for puffin sunglasses.”

Now, Dunning is waiting for the perfect eyewear to test his findings and keep the bird’s eyes away from the UV light.

Rex Austin

Rex Austinwas born and raised in Thunder Bay Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. Apart from running his own podcast (Ice Fishing And Other “Cool” Things), he spends his time canoeing and backpacking in Northern Ontario.. As a journalist Rex has published stories for Global News (Thunder Bay) we well as Buzz Feed and Joystiq. As a contributor to Great Lakes Ledger, Rex most covers science and health stories. Contact Rexhere

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