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Pink squirrels

If pink is your favorite color, then you should like North American flying squirrels.

The northern flying squirrel — one of three flying squirrel species that lives in North America — is found in the mountains of western Montana. It gets its name from being able to glide from tree branches using skin that stretches between their front and hind legs.

There are two other species of flying squirrels in North America, including the southern flying squirrel and the Humboldt’s flying squirrel.

Recently a college student in Texas did some work to see if all three of the flying squirrels look pink when you shine an ultraviolet light on them. She looked at hundreds of flying squirrels under UV light and they were all pink, even dead ones.

It’s strange, though, that their relatives the red and gray squirrel didn’t glow pink. All of the squirrels have fur that looks somewhat the same under normal light — reddish to brown or gray.

Ultraviolet lights are like the ones they turn on in bowling alleys or dance studios that make white things look really bright. They can also show you where some scorpions are living, since scorpions glow in ultraviolet light. On television crime shows they use them to find old blood stains.

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Why would squirrels glow pink under light we don’t normally see?

"They could be communicating with members of their own species by showing off their fluorescence to each other, or it might be a sort of mating display," said the student, Allison Kohler. "The other hypothesis is that they could be using this fluorescence as an anti-predator trait to communicate with other species, avoiding predation by other species by blending in or dealing with their potentially ultraviolet-saturated environments."

So if a friend tells you they saw a pink squirrel, now you will know they aren’t kidding you.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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Montana Untamed Editor

Montana Untamed editor for the Billings Gazette.