Hawksbill turtle
A Hawksbill sea turtle swimming off Lady Elliot Island, AustraliaGetty

Scientists have found what they believe is the first recorded case of a biofluorescent reptile. Marine molecular biologist David Gruber and his team were filming the coral off the Solomon Islands, near to Papua New Guinea, when they spotted a hawksbill sea turtle that looked illuminated.

Gruber said that he came across a "bright red-and-green spaceship" while exploring the sea, which turned out to be the newly discovered phenomenon. It is thought that there are more than 180 species of fish and sharks which are biofluorescent, but no reptilian species had previously been discovered with it.

Biofluorescence is the ability for some animals to reflect light and re-emit it in a different colour, usually green, red or orange, National Geographic explains. It differs to bioiluminescence which is when certain species can create chemical reactions within their skin and give off bright lights.

In a previous interview with National Geographic, John Sparks, curator of fishes at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, explained that because of how dark it is beneath the ocean "some of the deeper-dwelling critters need to give off light in order to communicate". Gruber, who is based at City University of New York and was a National Geographic emerging explorer in 2014, said: "It's a hidden world that we're just now beginning to tune into."

In the video, Gruber says: "Scientists have only really tuned into biofluorescence in the last 10 years, and as soon as we started tuning into it, we started to find it everywhere. First it was in corals and jellyfish, then it was in fish and now turtles too."