Meet the springhare: the first glow-in-the-dark African mammal known to science

Researchers discovered the springhare's fluorescent abilities entirely by accident

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A glowing red springhare

Olson et al 2021 under CC BY 4.0

Fluorescence is caused by an animal absorbing light and bouncing it back out again, and in nature, it’s not a new thing. Fluorescence occurs across only a handful of mammals but they span three different continents and inhabit entirely different ecosystems. The platypus is one such animal, whose glow-in-the-dark abilities were only discovered in 2020. 

But, a discovery earlier this year by Northland College researchers that springhares fluoresce is special: it is the first documented case of biofluorescence in an Afro-Eurasian placental mammal. The study purports that perhaps fluorescence in mammals is not as rare as once previously thought. 

The researchers entered Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History armed with a flashlight, with the goal of examining the fluorescent abilities of flying squirrels. Along the way, they accidentally discovered that springhares also glow. One specimen they examined was collected in 1905, and continued to glow in the dark for over 100 years.

The researchers subsequently tested live springhares (this time, in the dead of night—springhares are nocturnal) and found they could also fluoresce, predictably stronger than in the dead specimens. This study raises the questions: What other animals are out there, pulsating in every different shade of the rainbow after the clock strikes midnight?