the waitomo limestone caves on new zealand’s northern island are home to an endemic species of bioluminescent fungus gnat (arachnocampa luminosa, or glow worm fly) who in their larval stage produce silk threads from which to hang and, using a blue light emitted from a modified excretory organ in their tails, lure in prey who then become ensnared in sticky droplets of mucus. photos by dylan toh & marianne lim, spellbound toursmartin rietze and z blue polaris

In the dark of the ocean, some animals have evolved to use bioluminescence as a defense. In the animation above, an ostracod, one of the tiny crustaceans seen flitting near the top of the tank, has just been swallowed by a cardinal fish. When threatened, the ostracod ejects two chemicals, luciferin and luciferase, which, when combined, emit light. Because the glow would draw undesirable attention to the cardinal fish, it spits out the ostracod and the glowing liquid and flees. Check out the full video clip over at BBC News. Other crustaceans, including several species of shrimp, also spit out bioluminescent fluids defensively. (Image credit: BBC, source video; via @amyleerobinson)


Bioluminescent Forest by Tarek Mawad and Friedrich van Schoor

Via: DIYPhotography

3D projections are often used nowadays to create eye-popping visuals on flat surfaces such as the sides of buildings or on basketball courts, but could the same concept be done out in the wild where things aren’t flat and orderly? Photographer Tarek Mawad and animator Friedrich van Schoor recently decided to try it out.

What resulted is the video above, titled “Projections in the Forest”. The two artists spent six weeks illuminating various things in nature with a powerful projector and then capturing the results on camera.



Essential Guide: The Bioluminescence Edition

Bioluminescence — the ability for organisms to generate their own light — has evolved independently at least 50 times. All around the world, oceans glow, trees sparkle, and the forest floor flashes. It may be difficult to see many of these phenomena, but take a tour with us through the land, air and sea as we survey one of nature’s most awe-inspiring spectacles.  

Atlas Obscura’s Essential Guide To Bioluminescence


"BIOLUMINESCENCE" by RicardoAbraham

Lady Gaga color portrait inspired my the song “Artpop”. The concept was to seem to be a regular portrait then when the lights turn off and the black UV light turns on it reveals a hidden portrait/message.

color pencils, white acrylic paint, and uv florescent invisible ink on black textured paper

(check out instagram for more @ricardoabraham_art)


Facts About Fireflies

  • Fireflies talk to each other with light.

Fireflies emit light mostly to attract mates, although they also communicate for other reasons as well, such as to defend territory and warn predators away. In some firefly species, only one sex lights up. In most, however, both sexes glow; often the male will fly, while females will wait in trees, shrubs and grasses to spot an attractive male. If she finds one, she’ll signal it with a flash of her own.

  • Fireflies produce “cold light.”

Firefly lights are the most efficient lights in the world—100% of the energy is emitted as light. Compare that to an incandescent bulb, which emits 10% of its energy as light and the rest as heat, or a fluorescent bulb, which emits 90% of its energy as light. Because it produces no heat, scientists refer to firefly lights as “cold lights.”

In a firefly’s tail, you’ll find two chemicals: luciferase and luciferin. Luciferin is heat resistant, and it glows under the right conditions. Luciferase is an enzyme that triggers light emission. ATP, a chemical within the firefly’s body, converts to energy and initiates the glow. All living things, not just fireflies, contain ATP.

  • Firefly eggs glow.

Adult fireflies aren’t the only ones that glow. In some species, the larvae and even the eggs emit light. Firefly eggs have been observed to flash in response to stimulus such as gentle tapping or vibrations.

  • Fun Fact: Light Organs

The glow from fireflies or lightning bugs comes from photic organs, or organs that produce light.

  • Fun Fact: Making Light

Fireflies combine three special substances in their photic organs to make light. The three substances are:
luciferin (a pigment),
luciferase (an enzymatic catalyst),
and ATP (nucleotide that provides energy to cells).

  • How to Catch Lightning Bugs

Tips on how best to catch lightning bugs or fireflies. | More

  • Creating Firefly Habitats

What kind of habitat do fireflies like? Why do they like standing water? | More


dinoflagellates, a single celled bioluminescent plankton, photographed by naomi paquette in jervis beach, australia; fefo bouvier in barra de valizas, uruguay; russ taylor in the florida everglades; doug perrine in the maldives; phil hart in victoria lake, australia; and lukasz warzecha in the island of mjorn, sweden.  

though the reason for this bioluminescence is still debated, varying from defensive purposes to communication to predatory strategy, its causes are now better known.

as the dinoflagellates float, movement in the water sends electrical impulses around a proton filled compartment inside the microorganisms, triggering a series of chemical reactions which ultimately activates luciferase, a protein that produces the neon blue light.

most marine bioluminescence is in the blue and green light spectrum, as these wavelengths pass furthest through seawater. interestingly, no known fresh water dinoflagellates have ever evolved bioluminescent abilities.

but while beautiful, these dinoflagellates are  potentially toxic and worrying. their abundance in these photos is the result of nitrogen and phosphorous from farm run off, which in turn harms the marine life that in turn consumes it. 

unlike similar organisms, the dinoflagellates don’t directly produce chemicals that attack the nervous system or bodies of this marine life. but recent studies show that its role as both prey and predator can eventually magnify the accumulation of algae toxins in the food chain. 

they also serve to deprive the water of oxygen, creating dead zones that are difficult for oceans to recover from.

(see also: more posts on bioluminescence


DINO PET, the world’s first bioluminescent toy, is offiically my new favorite Kickstarter. Shut up and take my money (insert meme pic here).

It’s a dino, filled with dinos! A nightlight that stores the energy of the sun in living form, and releases it at night. Let me ‘splain…

Yonder Biology is a San Diego company that deals in the intersection of science and art, a cause close to my own heart. Within this 3-D printed dinosaur is a solution of dinoflagellates, photosynthetic organisms that are powered by the light of the sun, with the ability to release that energy in the form of brilliant blue bioluminescence when agitated at night (they can tell time!).

They give us brilliant scenes like these glowing, crashing waves:

That light is the product of an enzyme called luciferase and a high-energy molecule called luciferin, all manufactured by the dinoflagellate. What’s the purpose? To startle predators, or even to bathe them in light so they the hunter becomes prey itself.

Thanks to these guys, you don’t have to go to a tropical beach to experience that. You can have it at home, a dino bottle of dinos, full of awesome science

(check out DINO PET on Kickstarter for more)

Glowing sand in the Maldives

The Maldives are a nation composed of a pair of island chains in the Indian Ocean, southwest of the Indian subcontinent. On the beaches of these islands at night…a beautiful glow can be found, shown in these photos taken by a visitor to the islands.

This glow is produced by a type of plankton, most likely a dinoflagellate. These single-celled organisms are bioluminescent, producing a pale blue light via a chemical reaction when they are disturbed.

Almost any subtle disturbance can make the critters begin to glow, whether it is natural wave action or something as simple as a footprint.

Although the glow can be lovely, the most common bioluminescent species also produce chemicals that can be toxic to humans, so swimming in waters producing these blue lights in many cases may not be safe (check with the local authorities to be sure if you ever wonder).


Image credit: Mr. Ho - reproduced here with permission

Read more:

these fluorescent blue patches of water glimmering off hong kong’s seashore, while beautiful, are potentially toxic and worrying. the glow is an indicator of a harmful algal bloom created by noctiluca scintillans, a single celled organism that technically can function as both animal and plant.

noctiluca, and the plankton it eats, become more abundant when nitrogen and phosphorous from farm run off increase, causing harm to the marine life that in turn consumes it. 

unlike similar organisms, noctiluca doesn’t directly produce chemicals that attack the nervous system or bodies of this marine life, but recent studies show that its role as both prey and predator can eventually magnify the accumulation of algae toxins in the food chain. 

the noctiluca also serve to deprive the water of oxygen, creating dead zones that are difficult for oceans to recover from.

photos taken this past january by kin cheung, tyrone slu, lam yik fei.
see this previous post for more on the noctiluca’s bioluminescence.