Scientists have discovered a flying pink squirrel


You've heard of flying squirrels. But pink flying squirrels? Someone puts Pixar on the line.

A new study in the Journal of Mammology describes how the American flying squirrel, or Glaucomys, fluoresces pink at night. Researchers can not say for sure why, but communication and camouflage top their list of theories. Squirrel discos do not seem to be a possibility.

A flying squirrel seen under the naked eye (above) and under ultraviolet light.

Allison Kohler

The hot pink find came by chance.

In the spring of 2017 Jon Martin, a forestry professor at Northland College of Wisconsin, examined his yard with an ultraviolet lantern to see which lichens, mosses, and fluorescent plants. That's when he spotted a flying squirrel and noticed that it glowed pink in the ultraviolet light.

He asked Allison Kohler, a graduate student in the wildlife and fisheries department at Texas A & M University, to lead the investigation of his discovery. It started with the collection of stuffed squirrels from the Minnesota Science Museum, some of which date back decades.

"Some specimens were extremely vibrant, while one of them had no fluorescence. All but this fluoresce, however, somehow or other," she said by e-mail.

The team also assembled specimens at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago in total, studying more than 100 specimens of male and female museums across the country in addition to five live specimens. They concluded that all three North American species of flying squirrel were fluorescent, and that the rose is special for flying squirrels.

northern-a-kohler from the north

A flying American squirrel, wearing its day colors.

Allison Kohler

While many species bloom – from plants to insects and frogs, fluorescence has not yet been extensively studied or documented in mammals, according to the study. The squirrel finds colorful news for anyone who likes squirrels – or pink. But it also provides a window into the behavior of species.

Scientists speculate that squirrels' nocturnal flashes may alert other squirrels to their movements as they glide through the trees. Pink could also play a role in attracting partners and avoiding predators.

But researchers hope the discovery could have even wider implications.

"This could potentially help conservation of species or other species, and could also relate to wildlife management," Kohler said. "The more we know about the species, the more we can understand it and help it."

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