A scientist has made a shocking new discovery in England: under UV light the bills of Atlantic puffins light up like a glow stick.
Jamie Dunning, an ornithologist that usually works with another type of bird, had been contemplating about glow beaks in puffins for awhile, given that seabirds of the same family – crested auklets – have been known to have light-up bills.
The discovery happened back in January when Dunning decided to shine a UV light on a puffin carcass. He confesses the finding was in a way made by accident, confirming to Newsweek, that he was randomly placing specimens under black lights, with no expectations when the beak of a puffin corpse began to fluoresce vibrantly.
Although it’s not yet clear what causes the fluorescence, something in those particular parts of the puffin bill allow the UV light to be absorbed and reemitted as glowing light.
While bill luminescence has some use for the puffins, it is still a mystery what these feathery friends use the fluorescence for.
The bill of a puffin is forged by generations, hundreds and thousands of years, of sexual selection. There’s a lot going on there. That’s why it’s so colorful and pretty. […] The fluorescence in the Atlantic puffin could have evolved for the purpose of sexual display to attract a mate, or possibly to help chicks see their parents.”
The ability to see color comes from small internal receptors in our eyes called rods and cones. The human eye has three cones and is capable of perceiving a mixture of red, yellows and blues (our primary colors) and everything that those colors combine to create. What’s interesting with birds is that they have a fourth cone meaning that their eyes can perceive a whole other dimension of colors. Basically, they can see colors that we can’t even begin to comprehend; a property termed tetrachromatic vision. A scientist has made a shocking new discovery in England. Under UV light the bills of Atlantic puffins light up like a glow stick.
Its hards to say what it would look like [to birds], we can’t comprehend that color space, [b]ut almost certainly it’s attractive to birds. They must be able to see it – that’s the only reason it would exist.”
— Jamie Dunning, Ornithologist
It could very well be, that birds have always known about the extra colors in the puffin bill.
Thus far, bill fluorescence in Atlantic puffins has been observed solely on a carcass in Dunning’s lab.
Looking ahead, this phenomenon needs to be tested in the field, to ensure the bright beak isn’t just happening because of decomposition. Scientists have even made unique sunglasses to protect wild birds when they are caught for tagging.
If this exciting discovery has ruffled your feathers and you’re interested in learning more, keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming paper about puffin fluorescence being published by Dunning in collaboration with colleagues at the University of New Brunswick.
Writers Note: Sources CBC News, Newsweek. Photo Credit: Jamie Dunning and Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon/CBC
When diving in Nova Scotia where do you even begin? Do you start in Halifax the province's capital or do you wander beyond to see what the surrounding area has to offer?
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Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM Telephoto Zoom Lens
If you’re not quite ready for the expense of big lights, this little video light goes perfectly with any GoPro setup
Bare drysuit drawstring scuba gear bag the perfect alternative for transporting a dry suit to-and-from the dive site
Compact underwater scuba diving hand reel with a 150ft of white line on the spool
Capture amazingly smooth shake-free video with the GoPro Karma Grip
Rechargeable Ikelite NiMH battery pack compatible with Ikelite’s DS125, DS160, and DS161 strobes.
Compact scuba diving finger spool with 150ft of white line and a 4-inch brass double-ended clip
Black Mares Dragon Scuba Diving BCD
SHOOT 6″ Underwater Dome Port for GoPro Hero 6/Hero 5/Hero(2018) Black Camera Diving Lens Hood Housing Photography with Waterproof Case Accessories
Sigma MC-11 mount converter lens adapter (Sigma EF-Mount lens to sony E cameras). Essential photo kit contains Altura photo rapid-fire wrist strap, small lens pouch, cleaning kit, and microfiber lens cleaning cloth.
Bare 5mm evoke women’s full suit designed by Bare’s all-female design team. The suit has technically, innovative celliant infrared technology which increase circulation, body warmth and performance.
AmazonBasics 60-Inch Lightweight Tripod and Bag with adjustable-height legs and rubber feet
GoPro HERO6 Black Camera
Suunto Vyper Novo wrist scuba diving computer with USB
Black Mares Cruise Roller Tauchen bag, perfect for scuba diving and traveling
Canon Macro Lens EF-S 60mm f/2.8 USM – non Image Stabilised
DUI heavy duty dry suit gloves with yellow liners available in sizes: S, M, L, XL
Bare SB System Mens Full Under-layer
Ikelite underwater macro lens casing is comprised of an acetyl body with glass front and can hold lenses of 4.37 diameter x 3 inches (111 x 76 mm)
Suunto SK-8 wrist compass with bungee straps, faster stabilization, and enhanced readability
The Hydra 5000 WSRU is an all in one photo and dive light with wide, spot, red, and UV modes
Bare 7mm thick elastek dry suit hood
Ikelite TTL dual flash sync cord attaches two strobe’s to the underwater camera housing.
The Sony SEL90M28G FE 90 mm f/2.8-22 Macro G OSS Standard-Prime Lens for E (NEX) Cameras.
Capture amazingly smooth GoPro footage in the air with the GoPro Karma Drone
Bare Sports 5mm men’s wetsuit made with elastek full-stretch nylon-2 and neoprene celliant liner infrared technology.
Dry glove lock system that accommodates all hand sizes
3PC curved armband glow in the dark slate.
Sony Alpha a6500 24MP mirrorless camera with a 16-50mm lens, able to shoot 4K movies.
Ikelite compact ball arm for quick release handle
Ikelite aluminum digital camera tray with dual handles
GoPro dual battery charger conveniently charges two HERO6 Black, HERO5 Black, or HERO camera batteries simultaneously
13-inch inflatable dive buoy with a 12 by 11-inch scuba diving flag surface marker
Diving lens filter kit for GoPro HERO 5/6 which enhances colors for underwater video and photography conditions
Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM FLD Large Aperture Standard Zoom Lens for Canon Digital DSLR Camera + 32GB Memory Card + Photo4Less Cleaning Cloth.
Ikelite Canon EOS 100D Rebel SL1 underwater camera housing in white
Mini blue scuba diving tank key ring with brass pick tool and o-rings
Ikelite photography strobe DS161 with NiMH rechargeable battery pack
Black scuba diving turtle fins
Scuba diving 4ft neon yellow surface marker signal tube with “Diver Below” print
Flexible Lightweight Portable Tripod for Projector DSLR Cameras and Go Pro
Bare drysuit trek boots designed for rocky shore entries, boat decks, and boat ladders