The North American flying squirrel fluoresces pink at night under ultraviolet light, but the purpose of the pink color is still a mystery to scientists.
Allison Kohler, a graduate student at the Texas A&M University Wildlife and Fisheries Department at College Station, helped make this discovery and confirm other flying squirrels actually fluoresce pink.
Kohlers basic candidate dr. Jon Martin, Forestry Associate Professor at Northland College, Wisconsin, made an exploratory forest survey with an ultraviolet flashlight in his backyard. Initially, he looked at various lichen, marshes and plants to see what fluoresced. By chance there was a flying squirrel at his bird feeder. When he saw it under ultraviolet light, it was hot pink.
A team to investigate this discovery was formed and included Martin, Kohler and two of Martin's colleagues at Northland College: Paula Anich, Associate Professor of Natural Resources, and Dr. Erik Olson, assistant professor of natural resources.
With access to a museum collection at the Minnesota Science Museum, Martin Kohler asked to take the lead on the project and develop a protocol to help investigate exactly what they had found.
"I looked at a ton of different samples that they had there," Kohler said. "They were full flying squirrels as they had gathered over time, and every one I saw fluoresced hot pink in some intensity."
To expand the search, the team went to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and gathered several copies. In total, they examined over 1
"We tested all three of the North American flying squirrels: the northern flying squirrel, the southern flying squirrel, and the Humboldt's flying squirrel, and all three fluoresced," she said.
After comparing flying species with other squirrels, like the American red squirrel and gray squirrels, the team found that the pink color is unique to flying squirrels.
The causes of squirrels to fluoresce pink are still under investigation, but communication and camouflage are two top contenders for why this could happen, the team has hypothesized.
"They could communicate with members of their own kind by showing their fluorescence to each other, or it could be a kind of mating display," Kohler said. "The second hypothesis is that they could use this fluorescence as an anti-static feature to communicate with other species, avoiding the astonishment of other species by interfering with or managing their potentially ultraviolet saturated environments."
As the research progresses, she said, the significance of this finding will be more clearly presented. Kohler is planning to continue her research while pursuing her Bachelor's Degree in Texas A&M.
"It could potentially help with the conservation of the species or other species, and it could also relate to wildlife management," Kohler said. "The more we know about the species, the more we can understand it and help it. It opens a new door to the nightly-crepuscular kingdom, or active at dusk, communication in animals."
Materials Provided by Texas A & M AgriLife Communications . Original written by Laura Muntean. Note: The content can be edited for style and length.