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Platypuses capture worldwide imagination Northland researchers make second illuminating discovery

Northland faculty and alumni/ae have created a well-needed bit of fun in the science world with their recent paper about glowing platypuses.

After their discovery of pink fluorescing flying squirrels in 2019, Northland professors Paula Spaeth Anich, Sharon Anthony, Michaela Carlson, Jonathan Martin, and Erik Olson and capstone students Adam Gunnelson and Allison Kohler kept shining their light.

While on a research-finding trip to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois, Anich, Martin, and Olson put a black light to preserved platypus specimens—and their brownish pelts glowed blue. They are one of the few mammals known to exhibit this trait and scientists are not sure why they do.

Their findings, published October 15, 2020 in Mammalia, captured the imagination of many and added even more intrigue to the platypus. As The New York Times noted, “The last we checked on the platypus, it was confounding our expectations of mammals with its webbed feet, duck-like bill, and laying of eggs. More than that, it was producing venom. Now it turns out that even its drab-seeming coat has been hiding a secret—when you turn on the black lights, it starts to glow.”

In the months since their findings were published, 150 publications from thirty-plus countries have reported on the story—in multiple languages. The team has been approached by children’s book authors, radio hosts, podcasts, and even The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.

The research team has taken the unexpected spotlight in stride—one interview at a time—and with good humor. “It’s getting kind of crazy,” they agreed.