Bioluminescence is one of nature’s most incredible phenomena, and it can be found in an impressive diversity of organisms. It helps creatures ward off predators, attract mates, and lure in prey. Not to be confused with fluorescence or phosfluorescence, which involve absorbing and reflecting light, bioluminescence occurs as the result of a chemical reaction. Through a physiological mechanism similar to the ones responsible for releasing hormones or adrenalin, organisms secrete a catalyst called a luciferase to interact with a mixture of oxygen and a luciferin, which produces a glowing substance called oxyluciferin. Depending on the creature, this results in a green, blue, white, or yellow glow. Here are some of the world’s most incredible bioluminescent organisms:
Despite appearances, these creatures aren’t actually worms at all. They are beetles and flies in the larval stage. Only the females glow, usually yellow or green, and depending on their maturity can be legless and wingless.
These single-cell algae bloom in vast numbers and are responsible for dramatic red tides, but can also appear in various other colors. Their luminescence is excited by physical movement, and so boats sailing along in the night will often see a brightly glowing wake or pods of dolphins will create beautiful blue streaks in the sea when encountering them.
Hawaiian Bobtail Squid
This awe-inspiring creature stores colonies of bioluminescent bacteria in special light organs, which act as unique biological headlights, allowing it to find prey at great depths.
Also sometimes called Fairy Fire, this fungi is native to the eastern coast of North America, forms on decaying wood, and glows an eerie neon green.
Deep-sea Atolla Wyvillei Jelly
This jellyfish uses it bioluminescence for a unique form of self-defense. When attacked, it lights up brilliantly, hoping to attract even larger predators to scare away its assailant.
Japanese Glowing Mushrooms
Similar to Foxfire, these mushroom can be found in deep Japanese woods, and only bloom during extremely wet periods for a day or two at most. They are neon green and yellow.
The Crystal Jelly gets its name from its distinctly chandelier-like appearance. Found in the Pacific near the West coast of the Americas, it uses a rare calcium reaction to produce its green light.
Probably one of nature’s most striking bioluminescent organisms, this sea worm lives in the deep ocean, and looks similar to a centipede. Able to emit a rare yellow light, it throws off glowing leg appendages when threatened.
Nature is full of strange and fascinating creatures of all shapes and sizes, but there is no doubt that bioluminescence is one of the most incredible adaptations of all. It evokes our imaginations, strangely resembles something out of science fiction, and seems distinctly otherworldly.
As scientists continue to unlock the mysteries of the deep ocean, there is no doubt that more interesting bioluminescent creatures will soon be discovered. New discoveries are eagerly awaited by the wildlife enthusiasts. What are your favourite Bioluminescent occurrences?