Bright Connection

Author: Kyle

Posted on Apr 23, 2018

Category: Faculty Focus

UNB professor, Dr. Tony Diamond, has made a brilliant discovery together with a colleague in England, Dr. Jamie Dunning. They've discovered that the brilliantly colored beaks of Atlantic Puffins also light-up -- like a glow stick! -- when exposed to ultra-violet (UV) light.

Dr. Dunning stumbled on this recently one day in his lab, when he simply doused the lights and shone a light on a specimen of a puffin -- the bird's beak flouresced brilliantly (see photo below taken by Dr. Diamond).

As it happens, Dr. Tony Diamond, UNB Professor of Biology and Forestry and Environmental Management, had made the same serendipitous discovery years ago, but had not reported it in the scientific literature. Now Diamond and Dunning (University of Nottingham) are working together to learn more about this remarkable feature of puffin beaks.

Many birds are known for their colorful feathers, and some, like the puffin, also for colorful beaks. Elaborate colors are often important in mate competition and mate choice, signaling to rivals and potential mates aspects of a potential mate's health and vigor.

But the phenomenon of fluorescence is extremely rare! In birds (such as parrots), it is usually found only in feathers – fluorescence in the beak is known in only two species of penguin, and the crested auklet in Alaska. The flourescent parts of the puffin beak under UV illumination would be visible to other puffins whether or not they can actually see in the UV portion of the spectrum.

Diamond and Dunning will work together to try to understand how the birds themselves see this flourescence and what significance it might have for them.

Interested in learning more about this story? Check out recent articles written about both Diamond and Dunning.