Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence

March 6, 2013 at 11:10 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )


I spent last Saturday at the Field Museum, being trained on our newest exhibit, Creatures of Light.  This features all sorts of animals that have bio-luminescence …which is a fancy way of saying all animals that create light.  The most common thing to spring to mind when we discuss this is the firefly (aka lightning bug), since most of us have captured them in our hands at one point or another.  Note:  if you still do this, please be sure to let them go.  Their population is decreasing due to societal expansion and they have a very short window of opportunity to mate and procreate…putting them in glass jars until they die kind of prohibits that.

This exhibit is coming to us from the American History Museum in New York, in affiliation with the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, Canada.  I wasn’t too sure that it was going to hold my attention but the whole lecture was fascinating and the exhibit itself is really cool.  Besides the obvious lightning bugs, we learned about the following things that also glow from within: a type of fungus, lots of deep-sea fish, glowworms in a cave in New Zealand that I’ve actually been lucky enough to see for myself,  plankton that lights up when touched in a lagoon in Costa Rica and a whole lot more.  I also learned that in the majority of bio-luminescent cases, there’s a type of bacteria that basically acts as a parasite to the animal/fungus/algae/whatever and that symbiosis is what causes the lighted features.  How cool is that?

Insane, I know. But surprisingly small, so don’t be too scared.

One of the most interesting animals we learned about was the anglerfish, which has a lighted tip hanging over its mouth to attract food, and also a luminescent barbel that hangs from its stomach.  It’s a creepy, crazy looking fish (obviously) but it doesn’t get much bigger than a human fist, so in reality it’s not as scary as it seems.  Interestingly, the females get this large while the males are fairly small and their main purpose in life is to basically attach themselves near the rear end of the female – for life – so she can absorb his sperm to make babies.  We were told that the male is basically a hanging gonad, which is just a lovely visual.  These fishes appear with dozens of others in glass jars throughout the exhibit, courtesy of The Field Museum.  They’re all (dead) specimens we have in research and it adds an interesting glimpse to the whole exhibit.

This will be at the Field through all of 2013 so if you’re lucky enough to be close, you should check it out.  And if you bribe a certain blogger with chocolate and/or beer, she just might help get you in!

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