Lights On – 10 Fascinating Bioluminescent Creatures
If you are not willing to dive deep to see creatures give off an unearthly glow, you are in luck. There are worms that glow called dismalites that can be found in very select places in North America. The larvae of these worms live in stream banks and sandstone caves. Like the anglerfish, dismalites (Orfelia fultoni) use their blue-green light to find food by attracting insects. Once the insects take notice of the light, they fly into a sticky web spun by the worms and are eaten, which may make the worms something other than dismal. These small worms can be found in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, and were named after the Dismal Canyons in Alabama (where they can also be found). If you are interested in traveling to the southeastern United States to see dismalites, the best time to go is during the summer (May to September).
Dismalites are a type of glowworm, but more types of glowworm exist around the globe. Like dismalites, glowworms use their bioluminescence to attract insects (and even some small snails and millipedes) into a web. For this reason, their Latin name is Arachnocampa (which translates indirectly to spider-worm). Perhaps the most well-known glowworm is the Arachnocampa luminoso of New Zealand. In addition to using its light to attract unsuspecting prey, the New Zealand glowworm uses the light to burn off energy. The light is made via a chemical reaction between chemicals emitted by the glowworm and the oxygen in the air. In New Zealand, glowworms survive in caves because they can spin their webs from the cave ceiling. The dark caves are also conducive to the bioluminescent light being seen more easily. Other species of glowworms can be found in dark places in Wales, Tasmania, and Australia.
We move from the ocean to the cave to the air in the summer. Fireflies are perhaps the most famous bioluminescent creature. There are over 2000 species of firefly (which are also known as lightening bugs). For example, Photinus pyralis produces light via a chemical reaction between a pigment called luciferin and oxygen. Carbon dioxide is the most common chemical which is released by this reaction. Luciferin has a number of applications for people, including for use in blood banks to examine whether red blood cells are breaking down. Fireflies can regulate the amount of oxygen that enters their abdomen (where the chemical reaction takes place), which can create a flashing pattern. In case you were curious, fireflies hibernate during the winter in larvae stage. In Malaysia, fireflies have been known to flash in unison. While fireflies regulate their lights individually, they receive feedback from other light flashes around them. Even fireflies are susceptible to peer pressure.
2. Bioluminescent Mushrooms – Foxfire
It is not just fish and insects that glow, types of mushrooms called foxfire have the ability to produce light as well. The species Armillaria mellea is a variety of honey fungus that glows in the evening when it grows in rotting hardwood trees. This species causes root rot in a variety of plant species, so its glow is a part of the circle of life. Another type of fungi that emits light is found in Brazil. These mushrooms which are part of the genus Mycena provide a slight green glow at night. Of the 500 species of mushroom that are filed under Mycena, only 33 are known to be bioluminescent. Foxfires have had practical applications as people from various parts of the world have used the mushrooms as a natural lantern.
1. A host of shining animals in the name of Science
There are a number of animals that glow with a helping hand from scientists. Researchers have introduced substances such as green fluorescent protein to animals including rhesus monkeys and pigs to examine a wide variety of ailments. For example, in 2008 scientists infected unfertilized rhesus monkey eggs to study Huntington’s disease. The study examined the disease’s effect on monkey brains. Green fluorescent protein was introduced to pigs by researchers in Taiwan to study the development of adult stem cells. Fluorescent proteins have also been introduced to animals to study cloning. Red fluorescent protein was introduced to cloned cats in 2007 via DNA by scientists in South Korea. The function of mice brains have also been studied at Harvard by introducing cyan, red, and yellow fluorescent protein. Individual neurons were given different colors to study how neurons work together in a distributed fashion.