Bioluminescence in Living Organisms

When living creatures produce and emit light through a chemical reaction it’s called bioluminescence. Fluorescence occurs when light of shorter wavelength is absorbed and then re-emitted as longer-wavelength light. Very similarly, phosphorescent light is able to re-emit light more slowly for a longer period of time.

Fireflies

Scientific name: Lampyridae

Habitat: Temperate and tropical regions on every continent except Antarctica.

Classification: Vulnerable

Fireflies, also known as lightning bugs, are actually a type of beetle. Usually, fireflies glow to find a mate or as a warning to others. In some species the egg and larva also glow as they develop to maturity.

How it works…

When oxygen binds with calcium, adenosine triphosphate, and the chemical luciferin in the presence of luciferase, light is produced. Luciferase is a bioluminescent enzyme.

Species of Note

Photinus carolinus-Synchronous Firefly

Habitat: Appalachian mountains

Phausis reticulata-Blue Ghost Firefly

Habitat: Southeastern US

Foxfire Mushrooms

Scientific name: Agaricales

Habitat: Dark forests on every continent except Antarctica

Aristotle first took note of glowing mushrooms around 382 B.C. During the daytime the mushrooms appear quite ordinary in fact, but at night these mushrooms glow a mysterious green. It's believed that this glow attracts insects that will aid in spreading the mushroom’s spores. The other purpose may also be to discourage animals from consuming them.

How it works…

Cold light is created when luciferase, the bioluminescent enzyme, binds with calcium, ATP and oxygen.

Species of note:

Panellus stipticus- Bitter Oyster Mushrooms Habitat: North America has the only bioluminescent strains

Mycena luxaeterna- Eternal Light mushrooms

Habitat- Exclusive to the Atlantic Forest in Brazil

Armillaria gallica- Bulbous Honey Fungus

Habitat: North America, Europe and northern Asia

Sea Pens

Scientific name: Ptilosarcus gurneyi

Habitat: Gulf of Alaska to southern California

Classification: Vulnerable

A sea pen is actually made up of a colony of polyps that are all genetically identical and cannot live independently; they are considered octocorals, meaning that each polyp or autozooid has eight tentacles used for filter feeding. When disturbed Sea Pens produce a bright green-blue light.

How it works…

When oxygen binds with calcium, adenosine triphosphate, and the chemical luciferin in the presence of luciferase, light is produced. Luciferase is a bioluminescent enzyme.

Species of Note

Pennatula phosphorea Linnaeus-Phosphorescent Sea Pen

Habitat: Sandy bottoms from 10 to at least 100 meters deep

Ptilosarcus gurneyi- Orange Sea Pen

Habitat: Sandy bottoms in shallow waters to 135m deep

African Springhares

Scientific name: Pedetes capensis

Habitat: Steppes and savannas of only 7 African Countries

Classification: Vulnerable

A bit of a misnomer, the Springhare isn’t a hare at all despite its unusual kangaroo-like rabbit appearance. Springhares have long legs built for leaping, sharp claws designed for digging, and fur that glows in the dark when exposed to UV light. 

How it works…

Porphyrins on the springhare’s fur absorb ultraviolet light and re-emit it as a display of biofluorescence in tones of red, orange, and pink.

 

 

New World Flying Squirrels
 
Scientific name: Glaucomys
Habitat: Forests of North and Central America
New World Flying Squirrels are nocturnal mammals that are able to glide in the heights of the forests by using a specialized furred patagia. 

How it works…

The flying squirrel’s fur has the unique ability to absorb ultraviolet light and re-emit it as a display of biofluorescence in tones of bright pink.

 

Fire Algae

Scientific name: Dinoflagellate

Habitat: Surface waters of most of the world's oceans

Bioluminescent algae produce a flash of blue-green light whenever the water they are living in is disturbed by motion. Bioluminescence from these dinoflagellates can be seen on dark nights when they respond to the turbulence of the waves and organisms around them. From time to time your footprints may glow near the waterline at night if there’s a high enough concentration of the dinoflagellates near the shore. This usually occurs during the warmer summer months in temperate waters.

How it works…

When oxygen binds with calcium, adenosine triphosphate, and the chemical luciferin in the presence of luciferase, light is produced. Luciferase is a bioluminescent enzyme.

Bamboo Coral

Scientific name: Isididae

Habitat: Deep Seabed's globally

Classification: Endangered

Bamboo corals are octocorals, meaning that each polyp or autozooid has eight tentacles used for filter feeding. When disturbed the Bamboo Coral emits light in a glow in the dark “burglar alarm effect.” Some even exude glowing slime.

How it works…

Coelenterazine, which is a type of luciferin, reacts with luciferase to produce blue light.

Night Light Jellyfish

Scientific Name: Pelagia noctiluca

Habitat: worldwide in tropical and warm temperate seas

This jellyfish’s appearance is radially symmetrical with a bell-shaped frilled umbrella. It possesses eight thin stinging tentacles and four oral arms. When disturbed Jellyfish earns its name and phosphoresces, if handled it leaves behind a luminous slime.

How it works…

When oxygen binds with calcium, adenosine triphosphate, and the chemical luciferin in the presence of luciferase, light is produced. Luciferase is a bioluminescent enzyme.

 

Educational Websites and Articles we LOVE:

Fireflies

Firefly.org | Firefly & Lightning Bug Facts, Pictures, Information

How Do Fireflies Glow? Mystery Solved After 60 Years (nationalgeographic.com)

Fox Fire Mushrooms

https://news.cgtn.com/news/2019-11-16/Alien-Fungi-Why-some-mushrooms-glow-in-the-dark-LF1lUH6Iq4/index.html

https://www.plantsnap.com/blog/10-cool-facts-bioluminescent-mushrooms/

https://www.treehugger.com/bioluminescent-fungi-mushrooms-that-glow-in-the-dark-4868794

Sea Pens

Bioluminescence, Silent Language of the Sea - Alan Ruiz Berman (seapen.org)

https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/animals-a-to-z/sea-pen 

Phosphorescent sea pen | The Wildlife Trusts

 

Springhares

Springhares Are The Latest Mammals To Have Their Glow-In-The-Dark Secret Powers Revealed | IFLScience

Springhare | African Wildlife Foundation (awf.org)

 

New World Flying Squirrels

Ultraviolet fluorescence discovered in New World flying squirrels (Glaucomys) | Journal of Mammalogy | Oxford Academic (oup.com)

Flying Squirrels That Glow Pink in the Dark - Northland College

Flying squirrels go pink in ultraviolet | Earth | EarthSky

 

Fire Algae

The Incredible Glowing Algae (nasa.gov)

Pyrrophyta: The Fire Algae (Dinoflagellate) : Plantlet

10 Amazing Bioluminescent Organisms (thoughtco.com)

 

Bamboo Coral

NOAA Ocean Explorer: Benthic bioluminescence in bamboo coral

NOAA Ocean Explorer: Gulf of Alaska 2004

 

Nightlight Jellyfish

ADW: Pelagia noctiluca: INFORMATION (animaldiversity.org)

How the Jelly Got Its Glow | AMNH

Credits:

Firefly Research & Conservation. “Facts about Fireflies & Lightning Bugs.” Firefly.org, Firefly Research & Conservation, 15 Nov. 2018,

https://www.firefly.org/facts-about-fireflies.html. Bittel, Jason. “How Do Fireflies Glow? Mystery Solved after 60 Years.” Animals, National Geographic, 3 May 2021, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/150724-fireflies-glow-bugs-summer-nation-science.

“10 Cool Facts about Bioluminescent Mushrooms (and Where to Find Them).” Plantsnap, 3 Sept. 2019, https://www.plantsnap.com/blog/10-cool-facts-bioluminescent-mushrooms/. Norris, Anna.

“10 Bioluminescent Mushrooms That Glow in the Dark.” Treehugger, Treehugger, 8 Oct. 2021, https://www.treehugger.com/bioluminescent-fungi-mushrooms-that-glow-in-the-dark-4868794.

“Alien Fungi: Why Some Mushrooms Glow in the Dark.” 404, https://news.cgtn.com/news/2019-11-16/Alien-Fungi-Why-some-mushrooms-glow-in-the-dark-LF1lUH6Iq4/index.html.

“Pennatula Phosphorea Linnaeus, 1758.” Description of Pennatula Phosphorea - Phosphorescent Sea Pen, https://european-marine-life.org/05/pennatula-phosphorea.php.

“Sea Pens: Light on the Seafloor.” Marine Biology, 25 Jan. 2022, https://marinebiology.uw.edu/news-stories/2015/10/09/sea-pens-light-on-the-seafloor/.

“Bioluminescence 2009: Living Light on the Deep-Sea Floor.” NOAA Ocean Explorer Podcast RSS, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/09bioluminescence/background/plan/plan.html. Berman, Written by Alan, et al.

“Bioluminescence, Silent Language of the Sea.” Alan Ruiz Berman, 19 Jan. 2022, https://seapen.org/bioluminescence-silent-language-of-the-sea/.

“Springhare.” African Wildlife Foundation, https://www.awf.org/wildlife-conservation/springhare. Hale, Tom.

“Springhares Are the Latest Mammals to Have Their Glow-in-the-Dark Secret Powers Revealed.” IFLScience, IFLScience, 26 Feb. 2021, https://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/springhares-are-the-latest-mammals-to-have-their-glowinthedark-secret-powers-revealed/. Plantlet.

Kohler, Allison M, et al. “Ultraviolet Fluorescence Discovered in New World Flying Squirrels (Glaucomys).” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 23 Jan. 2019, https://academic.oup.com/jmammal/article/100/1/21/5299493. 

“Flying Squirrels That Glow Pink in the Dark.” Northland College, 1 Dec. 2021, https://www.northland.edu/news/natural-resources-news/flying-squirrels-that-glow-pink-in-the-dark/. 

“Flying Squirrels Go Pink in Ultraviolet: Earth.” EarthSky, 16 Feb. 2019, https://earthsky.org/earth/flying-squirrels-go-pink-in-ultraviolet/.

“Pyrrophyta: The Fire Algae (Dinoflagellate).” Plantlet, 21 Sept. 2021, https://plantlet.org/pyrrophyta-the-fire-algae-dinoflagellate/#:~:text=Pyrrophyta%20or%20fire%20algae%20is%20a%20division%20of,chlorophyll-b%2C%20c1%2C%20c2%20and%20fucoxanthin%29%20that%20can%20photosynthesize.

“The Incredible Glowing Algae.” NASA, NASA, https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/glowingalgae. Fulton-Bennett, Kim. “Glow-in-the-Dark Corals Light up the Deep Sea.” MBARI, 24 Nov. 2020, https://www.mbari.org/glowing-corals/.

“NOAA Ocean Explorer: Benthic Bioluminescence in Bamboo Coral.” NOAA Ocean Explorer Podcast RSS 20, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/04deepscope/background/plan/media/fig6b.html.

“Bamboo Corals in North America: Deep-Sea Forests and Blue Light.” NOAA Ocean Explorer Podcast RSS, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/04alaska/background/bamboo/bamboo.html#:~:text=Another%20bamboo%20coral%20species%2C%20the%20unbranched%20Lepidisis%20olapa%2C,the%20trees%20light%20up%20when%20you%20touch%20them.

“How the Jelly Got Its Glow: AMNH.” American Museum of Natural History, https://www.amnh.org/explore/videos/oceans/jellies-down-deep/how-the-jelly-got-its-glow. Leverenz, Erin.

“Pelagia Noctiluca.” Animal Diversity Web, https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Pelagia_noctiluca/. “Pelagia Noctiluca.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Nov. 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pelagia_noctiluca

 

 

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