What is BIOLUMINESCENCE and Examples with Photos

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Did you know that one of the main sources of light on the planet is made up of living beings? Certain organisms are capable of emitting light naturally thanks to the bioluminescence process, one of the most surprising phenomena that we can see in nature. Animals, fungi, mushrooms and bacteria are capable of emitting bioluminous signals with different purposes, all thanks to this incredible powerhouse.

If you are curious and want to know what is bioluminescence and examples To understand it better, keep reading this interesting article by Ecologist Verde, in which we also tell you in which places you can observe bioluminescence phenomena.

What is bioluminescence

Bioluminescence is the ability to produce light through the chemical reaction involving oxygen and a luciferin. This is a molecule capable of emitting energy in the form of photons when it comes into contact with oxygen molecules, thus originating flashes of light. In this process, a luciferase also intervenes, a molecule that makes it possible for this chemical reaction to occur.

Of all the groups of bioluminescent organisms, more than four fifths, that is most live in marine ecosystems. This fact is due to the fact that, given the dark and deep conditions of the seas and oceans, the emission of light is a good strategy for defense or, on the contrary, as a weapon to attract prey.

But why and for what do biolumniscent organisms resort to light? The phenomenon occurs quite simply, because with the slightest contact with any other organism or object, or even if the sea water is agitated, these organisms emit light.

On many occasions they do it as a camouflage strategy, being able to turn on, turn off or even regulate the light they emit. In other cases, they emit light in order to scare off a potential predator and thus have more time to escape. On the other hand, there are cases in which these animals make use of bioluminescence to adapt to the place where they are and attract their prey. This is the case of living organisms that inhabit abyssal plains, submerged regions in the depths of the ocean that, due to the lack of natural light, force the species that live there to make use of this phenomenon.

If you want to know more information about the Abyssal Plains: what they are and characteristics, take a look at this other article.

Examples of bioluminescence

Among the bioluminescent life forms, we can distinguish those that inhabit terrestrial ecosystems and those that do so in marine ecosystems, the latter group being the most diverse and numerous, responsible for true light shows at sea. These are some examples of bioluminescent organisms:

Organisms with bioluminescence in soil

  • The famous fireflies (Family Lampyridae): they shine their abdomens to look for reproductive partners during summer nights.
  • Mosquito larvae Luminous Arachnocampa from New Zealand.
  • Within millipedes, the genus Motyxia uses bioluminescence as a warning signal to its nocturnal predators.
  • Also noteworthy are some bioluminescent mushrooms, plants and fungi such as the species Mycena lucentipes, a small fungus that grows on the wood of rainforest trees in Brazil and Puerto Rico. If you want to discover more examples of Glow-in-the-dark Plants, be sure to visit this new article by Green Ecologist.

Marine bioluminescent organisms

  • Ostracods (sesame seed-sized animals with legs that flash to find a mate).
  • Dinoflagellates, such as Pyrodinium bahamense, The size of specks of dust, they emit light whenever the water churns around them, making undulating motions with their flagella.
  • The luminous worms commonly known as "green bombers" (they inhabit the abyssal bottoms and expel sacks of green light as bombs in threatening situations).
  • Jellyfish like Aequorea victoria and ctenophores like the Mnemiopsis leidyi they emit light thanks to the action of photoproteins that are stimulated due to darkness.
  • The firefly squidWatasenia scintillans), as well as the vampire squidVampyroteusthis infernalis), which use bioluminescence to attract their prey.
  • Shrimp like those of the species Sergestes similis, capable of regulating the amount of light they emit depending on the luminosity of the water that surrounds them.
  • Some fish, among which the demon fish (Family Stomiidae). These animals are capable of emitting red light, as opposed to the blue or green light that characterizes the bioluminescence of other organisms.
  • Luminescent radiolaria, invertebrate animals that usually live in colonies on structures made of silica skeletons.
  • Luminous bacteria that constitute structures and that some species of hunter fish use as a decoy.

Places to see bioluminescence

When large numbers of organisms that produce light are gathered together with the movement of water, when moving rapidly, they light up like shooting stars. In different parts of the world we can attend such a magical spectacle of nature:

Bioluminescence in Holbox

On the northeast coast of the Yucatan Peninsula (Mexico), in a Caribbean environment, we can discover in Holbox that during the darkness of the night a large number of marine bioluminescent microorganisms accumulate on the coast emitting light.

Bioluminescence in Costa Rica

Along the Puntarenitas beach, after sunset, you can enjoy the magical phenomenon produced by living organisms that emit blue light and leave a beautiful trail of sparkles.

We can also enjoy the amazing phenomenon of bioluminescence on the coasts of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, in Koh Rong (Cambodia), in Toyama Bay (Honshu, Japan), as well as in the lagoons that form inside the Waitomo Caves in New Zealand.

If you want to read more articles similar to What is bioluminescence and examplesWe recommend that you enter our Nature Curiosities category.

  • Drafting team (02/27/2016) Bioluminescence. National Geographic Spain, Sciences.
  • Martín, A. et. al, (2010) Bacterial bioluminescence. REDUCA Magazine, Biology. Volume 3 (5).
  • Drafting team (06/27/2019) Bioluminescent fungi. National Geographic Spain, Biodiversity.
  • Galán, J. (07/06/2016) Hallucinating with bioluminescence, 10 bioluminescent beaches and lagoons. El País, off the beaten path.
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