Illuminating the World

By Zoe Bedard

Have you ever wondered what makes fireflies shine, or why jellyfish look like small lanterns? And what about that weird sharp toothed fish on finding nemo, the one with the ‘headlamp’, what makes his light bulb glow? The reaction that takes place is called bioluminescence. Bioluminosity occurs when light is emitted as a product of a biochemical reaction that takes place in these special animals. Bioluminosity is an evolution that some animals have to help them communicate, attract mates, repulse preditors and to camouflage themselves in their habitats.

All creatures that have this amazing chemical produce it naturally, once again through biochemical reactions that automatically occur, in accordance to the purpose of bioluminosity in that animal (ie: mating, protection, communication, etc.) Among the animals with this evolution, fireflies are the most commonly recognized, mainly due to their prevalence and large population. Fireflies typically use their lights to direct other fireflies and, similar to other animals, to attract a partner. They use a type of photoprotein (GFP) to create this bioluminescence. The chemical is mixed with Oxygen, Magnesium, and ATP energy (which is a naturally produced energy formulated by the mitochondria of most animalistic cells, even humans!) to create a chemical compound. The chemical compound that is formed creates a chemical reaction which occurs at night, and contrary to popular belief, the light from fireflies can be yellow, green, or orange.

Like fireflies, deep sea creatures are known for their natural bioluminescent light that makes up for the lack of sunlight under the ocean. Jellyfish are characterized by their glowing transparent skin and strange, spineless, bodies. Multiple proteins help decide what color jellyfish glow. They use this to confuse predators by releasing small bioluminous specks which resemble plankton. Another great sea creature is the angler fish. Angler fish have large heads and huge teeth that are paired with small fishing rod like antennas on top of their head, which gleam at the tip. They use their shining antennas to attract prey, the light hangs above their mouths to make it easier to catch fish.

Bio-luminescence is the chemical reaction in which certain animals, such as invertebrates and sea creatures, begin to glow on certain parts of their bodies. The light emitted can protect them or help them find their own prey, and this evolution could be the only reason for their survival. An amazing thing. A fascinating and seemingly impossible occurrence to the human eye, these animals force a plan of survival with these special abilities, abilities most animals are not equipped with. If it weren’t for the amazing science behind bio-luminosity, who knows if any of us would even recognize a firefly.