Of things that glow in the night…

Of things that glow in the night… bio luminescence

Bio-luminescence is a fascinating thing. You can see it on the reefs and ocean. Some species of fish, squid and plankton use light, or luminescence to attract prey, see in the darkness or frighten off predators, or even act as a decoy to draw attention away from themselves. Much of this is apparently caused by bacteria that live in special tissues provided by the animals themselves. Sometimes the chemicals that generate the light are directly created by the animals.

“The amazing thing is, the light from bio luminescence is cold, it generates no detectable heat”

On land, the most famous creatures to generate light by bio luminescence are the fireflies and glow-worms, pictured here. Fireflies use the light to communicate with each other to find partners whereas glow-worms are the larvae of fungus gnats and have no need to breed until they mature, so they use their light to attract prey to their sticky chandelier-like web.

Also able to generate surprisingly bright light are a number of species of mushroom and leaf-mould. Entire patches of forest can be lit at night by this remarkable chemical process. What should a mushroom make light for? It seems as though insects are attracted to these fungi at night. Since the mushrooms primarily live in damp rainforests where there is no wind most of the time there is nothing to spread the spores other than insects. So the fungi recruit them with the light. As they crawl all over the mushroom the spores attach to their bodies and by the time daylight comes, the insects have secreted themselves away in a dark, damp place- perfect for the spores to grow and create a new patch of mushrooms.

Many mushrooms exhibit luminescence

Glowing mushrooms in a Bornean jungle

A Firefly

Fireflies flashing in the mangroves

A Giant Firefly larva on the floor of a Bornean forest

More glowing mushrooms

A colony of Glow Worms in a Victorian forest

A tree buttress glows with leaf-mould in a tropical Queensland forest

A Glow worm lures its prey with a bright blue light

Bio luminescence can be easily photographed. See the article