It turns out that the southeastern pocket gophers are glowing in the dark and scientists don’t know why
Southeast Pocket Gophers
Jeannette Katzir / Getty Images
Since it spent most of its life underground, the southeastern pocket squirrel has been able to hold a fascinating secret. Apparently, the rodent native to Alabama, Georgia, and Florida glows in the dark.
“It’s an indescribable mix of purple and blue and pink,” JT Pynne, the scientist who made the discovery, told WABE. “It’s very, very psychedelic.”
A new Ph.D. Pynne, a graduate of the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, published his insightful results in The American Midland Naturalist this month. This is the first time that biofluorescence has been documented in pocket gophers.
Pocket gophers glowing
Pynne said he was inspired to point an ultraviolet flashlight at the ground squirrels a few years ago after learning of similar studies documenting biofluorescence in flying squirrels and possums.
“A lot of people, including me, were curious about other animals,” he said in a UGA press release. “We tested it on the flying squirrels we had and it actually worked. So I said, ‘Well, what else do we have?'”
Pynne, now a private nature biologist with the Georgia Wildlife Federation, was studying Pocket Gophers for his PhD at the time, so he turned to his own subjects.
“And it turned out that pocket squirrels, flying squirrels, and possums were the only specimens of animals that fluoresced. And I think of course my weird little animals do,” he said.
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Southeastern pocket squirrels almost never cross the ground. Pynne told WABE that these tiny rodents play a huge ecological role in the forests they live in. Their tunnels ventilate the ground and provide a home for other animals.
They are also known to be fierce.
“They are pound for pound, some of the wildest animals I have ever come across in my life,” Pynne told WABE. “I’ve always described them as really angry russet potatoes. But now it’s really angry russet potatoes that glow.”
The story goes on
Why they shine is still up for debate.
Pynne said the southeast pocket gopher’s superpower could be diet related. It can also be some form of communication. It can even be completely arbitrary.
“It’s possible it doesn’t mean anything,” Allie Kohler, a graduate student at Colorado State University and one of the people who discovered flying squirrels glow under black light, told WABE. “It shows that there is still so much to discover and who knows what might be hiding right in front of us.”