Fluorescence in Nature

naturally fluorescent hawthorn plant

Did You Know Fluorescence Occurs Naturally in Plants, Animals and Minerals?

Although the phenomenon of fluorescence seems pretty rare and unique, there’s actually been plenty of recent evidence that fluorescence can be found everywhere in nature! Hundreds of studies have observed naturally occurring fluorescence in multiple species of plants, flowers, aquatic animals, terrestrial animals, birds and minerals. In fact, a 2014 study “identified 50 families, 105 genera and 180 species of bioluminescent fishes.”

* The difference between fluorescence and bioluminescence is that bioluminescent creatures generate light via chemical reactions,  whereas fluorescent creatures need to absorb high energy light in order to fluoresce. 

Why are plants, animals and rocks fluorescent?

1. Protection

naturally fluorescent flower

The researcher who first discovered the naturally fluorescent four o’clock flowers suggests that a “possible benefit from fluorescence is protection from destructive bursts of free radicals triggered by environmental stresses.” This suggestion is supported by a 2020 study which concluded that "fluorescence confers tolerance to lethal UV radiation” and certain plants “possess a protective fluorescent shield that absorbs harmful UV radiation and emits harmless blue light.” 

A 2021 article about biofluorescence in mammals suggests that fluorescence “could be a way for some species to rid themselves of dietary toxins by depositing the harmful chemicals in their fur.” A 2020 study which echoes this hypothesis mentions that “physiological roles have been attributed to fluorescent proteins, ranging from communication and predation to UV protection.”


2. Communication

bioluminescent firefly

As the previous study mentioned, fluorescence in animals and plants could also have evolved as a means of communication. A 2020 study also mentions that “fluorescence provides a visual communication signal.” Interestingly, a 2021 article says that “a growing body of research also indicates that nocturnal mammals can see ultraviolet light, raising the possibility that these species can see in ways that we can’t, unless we have a special flashlight.”

A 2017 article explains the following: “Fluorescence in living creatures appears most often in marine life. Because water filters both incident and reflected light, visible signaling based on pigmentation can be unreliable under water. Color added using fluorescence (typically green, orange or red) is more visible because the spectrum of the light emitted is at a higher contrast with the predominantly blue illumination of aquatic settings."

fluorescent budgerigar birds

The previous article also mentions that “Budgerigars (a type of parrot) have yellow fluorescent feathers on their cheeks and crown, which is used in courtship displays.” A 2014 study similarly concludes that the evolution of fluorescence “suggests a previously unrecognized role in communication, including mating behavior as has been observed in parrots.

fluorescent fungi

Surprisingly, this same behavior is also in plants! An article hypothesizes that mushrooms use fluorescence to “attract the insects that eat it and thus help to spread its spores.


3. Camouflage

fluorescent shark

The previous study mentions that “fluorescence may be exploited in fishes to produce visual contrast and patterns in otherwise cryptically patterned or camouflaged species that blend in well on the reef in shallow sunlit waters.” Additionally, it concludes that “the possibility exists that marine fishes are using biofluorescence for a variety of functions, including communication (species recognition, mating), predator avoidance, and potentially even prey attraction/predation.”

Lastly, a 2021 article also suggests that fluorescence “could be a form of camouflage, creating “visual noise” to confuse predators who are sensitive to UV light. 

 

Examples of Nature's Fluorescence

Now that we know the evolutionary reasons for fluorescence in nature, let's enjoy the alluring beauty that nature's fluorescent creatures have to offer!

 

Naturally Fluorescent Plants

Naturally, we'll start with the magical palo azul plant. This particular plant is pretty unique in that the bark itself produces a green fluorescence when shined with a UV flashlight...but when it is brewed in water, it produces a beautiful blue fluorescence! You can learn more specifics about palo azul's fluorescence here: Why is Palo Azul Blue & Fluorescent?

 

 Palo azul bark

palo azul bark green fluorescence

 

Palo azul tea

fluorescent palo azul

 

Hawthorn flowers

fluorescent hawthorn flowers

 

Bee balm flower

fluorescent bee balm flower

 

White hollyhock

fluorescent flower

 

Kangaroo paws flower

fluorescent kangaroo paws flower

 

Ice plant flower

fluorescent iceplant flower buds

 

Jade plant flower

fluorescent jade flower

 

Juvenile blanket flower

fluorescent juvenille blanket flower

 

Mexican sunflower

fluorescent mexican sunflower

 

Narcissus flowers

fluorescent narcissus flowers

 

Plains coreopsis

fluorescent plains coreopsis flower

 

Succulent flowers

fluorescent succulent flowers

 

Borneo mushrooms

fluorescent mushroom

 

Naturally Fluorescent Animals

fluorescent animals

fluorescent bird

 

Grackle bird

fluorescent grackle bird

 

Mouse

fluorescent mouse

 

Flying squirrel

fluorescent flying squirrel

 

South American tree frog

fluorescent frog

 

Scorpions

fluorescent scorpions

 

Kreff's Glider

fluorescent kreffts glider

 

Bioluminescent glow worms

bioluminescent glow worms

 

Bioluminescent shrimp

fluorescent shrimp

 

Bioluminescent algae

bioluminescent marine bacteria

 

Bioluminescent plankton

bioluminescent plankton

 

Platypus

fluorescent platypus

 

Comb jellyfish

fluorescent jellyfish

 

Shark and other fish

fluorescent fish

fluorescent fish 

biofluorescent fish

  

Naturally Fluorescent Minerals

fluorescent minerals

 

Opal stone

fluorescent opal

 

Yooperlites

fluorescent yooperlite rocks

fluorescent yooperlight rock

 

Geode Rock

fluorescent geoge rock

 

Fluorite

fluorescent fluorite

 

Ocean Jasper

fluorescent ocean jasper

 

Spodumene

fluorescent spodumene

fluorescent rock

 

So much magic can be found in nature!

 

Magiktea key slogan

Now are you ready to drink fluorescence?  😉

  

 

Sources

(2017) Remarkable Photos Capture the Light That Plants Emit

(2014) Bioluminescent Species that Light Up the World

(2015) Bright blooms that glow

(2005) Day-Glo Flowers: Some bright blooms naturally fluoresce

(2017) Naturally fluorescent amphibian found in Amazon basin

(2020) ​​Naturally occurring fluorescence protects the eutardigrade Paramacrobiotus sp. from ultraviolet radiation

(2016) Fluorescence as a means of colour signal enhancement

(2020) Salamanders and other amphibians are aglow with biofluorescence

(2020) Sea as a color palette: the ecology and evolution of fluorescence

(2017) Surfing the Light Waves: Shrimp, Coral, Turtles and Other Fluorescent Organisms

(2021) When Mammals Glow in the Dark

(2021) 11 Animals You Wouldn't Expect to Glow

(2014) The Covert World of Fish Biofluorescence: A Phylogenetically Widespread and Phenotypically Variable Phenomenon

(2011) How a Jellyfish Protein Transformed Science

(2018) Forbes: Michigan Man Discovers Strange Glowing Rocks In The Upper Peninsula

12 Rocks & Minerals That Glow Under UV Light & Black Light

Fluorescent Minerals

(2015) Rocks that glow in the dark

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