By day, Scotland’s surviving patches of rainforest are a vibrant palette of lush greens, where tiny creatures barely visible against the woodland mosaic lurk, soft mosses, fungi and lichens cling to trees and tiny flowers carpet the floor.

The precious patches of forest are magical in daylight.

But a fresh way of looking at them by night has uncovered a fairytale world and an unexpected, fantastical riot of colour.

For in the depths of darkness, under the soft light of a UV torch, a magical world emerges.

The Herald: The creamy colours of a pale tussock caterpillar glow bright blue under UV lightThe creamy colours of a pale tussock caterpillar glow bright blue under UV light (Image: David Atthowe)

The pale soft flesh of a common bonnet mushroom turns the most intense shade of rich bright blue.

An ordinary snail, dreary brown by day, emerges from its shell home in neon yellow, with tiny dots of violet on the tips of its tentacles.

Even the humble woodlouse, hardly renowned as a thing of great beauty by daylight, scuttles from within the creases of bark in a dazzling shade of azure blue.

The impact is mind-blowing, says David Atthowe, who this weekend is showing Scots for the first time the magical ‘in the night garden’ world of west coast rainforests as viewed beneath the glow of UV light.

The Herald: An ordinary garden snail viewed using UV lightAn ordinary garden snail viewed using UV light (Image: David Atthowe)

“You go outside, it’s dark, switch on the torch and suddenly there’s this ‘wow’ moment,” he says.

“There are all these bright, vibrant colours. They’ve been there all the time, but we’ve not seen it.

“It is absolutely amazing.”

Over the past few evenings, he’s introduced curious walkers to the extraordinary world of biofluorescence at a series of walks at Dunollie Wood, near Oban.

Equipped with ultraviolent torches, they discovered a dramatic light show of dazzling jewel-like colours: rich tapestries of lichens clinging to a tree, their mingled shades glowing like neon tartan or woven tweed,  a ‘trippy’ world of lilac mushrooms, turquoise spiders and nettles glowing pink and blue.

There is nothing new about biofluorescence: certain plants and creatures absorb low wavelength or dim light and emit it as a high wavelength light in a different colour, often shades of orange, green and blue - almost as if they are glowing the dark.

The Herald: Lichen appears multi-coloured under UV lightLichen appears multi-coloured under UV light (Image: David Atthowe)

But this colourful display is undetectable by the human eye.

And it’s only by using special UV torches that we can see the world of colour through the eyes of other creatures.

Different from bioluminescence, when light is generated by the organism itself, such as glow worms, until recently it was thought the phenomenon was largely limited to mainly marine organisms such as corals and jellyfish.

As a result, only snippets of research have been carried out to explore biofluorescence.

And few might imagine that the creatures and plants in the woodlands outside our own front doors might harbour such hidden talents.

It’s where David has stepped in, with guided Reveal Nature night walks, UV torches and nature’s extraordinary light show.

The Herald: A woodlouse turns bright blue under the light of a UV torchA woodlouse turns bright blue under the light of a UV torch (Image: David Atthowe)

The Dunollie Wood walks are being followed with similar events at Ardura Forest and Aros Park on the Isle of Mull, remnants of the Scottish rainforest where, David says, the lush woodland is a rich source of biofluorescent species.

Later in the week he’ll lead a walk at Glasdrum Wood National Nature Reserve at the head of Loch Creran, a remnant of ancient Western Atlantic oakwoods packed with woodland flowers, lichens, mosses and liverworts.

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As well as thrilling night-time outings, the walks have a serious side: David is using the outings to gather information to feed into his own research and understanding of a spectacle that, until now, has been hiding in plain sight.

Thought to be a means of communication, much remains to be found out about why it happens at all.

“The rainforest has this intensity of biofluorescent plant and insects,” says David. “It makes the Scottish rainforest really special.

“There is every colour you can think of and it’s so incredibly vibrant.

The Herald: UV light turns a Russula mushroom into vibrant blueUV light turns a Russula mushroom into vibrant blue (Image: David Atthowe)

“The walks are a lovely way to highlight the diversity of species that we have living there.

“There are things that are small and well-hidden, that you need a lens to see during the day because they’re surrounded by every shade of green. Often you don’t know what you’re looking at.

“With the UV torch, you see all this texture and shape and colour, it’s special and vivid and you find that what is out there is super abundant.

“The woodlouse shine bright blue, snails go neon yellow, all these colours are really vibrant.”

One of his favourite UV experiences was when he shone his torch on a hedgehog and it glowed bright blue. “It turns out that Sonic the hedgehog is real - hedgehogs go blue.”

The Herald: A small shield bug shines bright under UV lightA small shield bug shines bright under UV light (Image: David Atthowe)

David discovered biofluroscence almost by chance.

“I saw a Ted talk, there were two guys talking and at the end they said they went out with a UV torch and everything changed colour.

“It captivated me but I couldn’t find anything else about it. I looked around the internet but there was no information.

“I started to look for a UV torches, but it took ages to find ones that would work.

“From there, it’s been observation and field work.

“But we’re at ground zero in terms of what we understand about this, and there are hundreds more questions than answers.”

The Herald: Muted brown and green moss comes alive under UV lightMuted brown and green moss comes alive under UV light (Image: David Atthowe)

Even specialist researchers who pour decades into understanding the creatures and organisms they study are surprised by the dazzling displays, he adds.

“I’ve recently come back from Malaysia where I worked with researchers in the field, who had no idea that this was something.

“They had never taken out a UV torch and seen this.

“I listened to an expert on nocturnal mammals who had spent years researching flying lemurs. She had no idea they turned bright blue under a UV light.”

The Herald: David Atthowe's walks use UV torches to light up woodland species - and teethDavid Atthowe's walks use UV torches to light up woodland species - and teeth (Image: David Atthowe)

The phenomenon is found in all manner of creatures - human teeth glow under UV light.

But while well recognised among marine organisms, such as sharks, for some time, it’s more recently been examined in detail in mammals.

Having realised that platypuses are biofluorescent, with fur that glows bluish-green under UV light, Australian researchers last October revealed that they had delved deeper and found 86% of 125 animals studied had fur that glowed under UV light.

The Herald: A bee carrying pollen captured under UV lightA bee carrying pollen captured under UV light (Image: David Atthowe)

North American flying squirrels shine brilliant pink, spiders bright blue and yellow, even purple.  David has noticed nettles in sunny spots remain green, and vivid red in shadier places.

Mice appear orange, algae vivid red, woodlice luminous blue and grass seeds a dreamy aquamarine.

David hopes the series of Scottish walks in ancient woodlands will gather fresh knowledge of why some creatures, plants and fungi glow so brightly in the dark.

The Herald: UV light on a pale tussock caterpillar UV light on a pale tussock caterpillar (Image: David Atthowe)

“There are patterns building up and a large study is trying to figure out what is going on. There are patterns starting to build up but it’s still early days when it comes to really understanding it,” he adds.

Meanwhile the walks are a fresh, fun and unusual way of viewing the natural world.

“Children love it,” adds David. “In fact, everyone does. It brings out all of our inner child. You see these bright, vibrant colours that we’ve not seen before.

“Sometimes a whole walk is just people saying ‘wow’.”

Find out more about the walks at