Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Bioluminescence: 10 Amazing Animals That Glow In the Dark.

Image Source: bbc.com

Since the invention of the incandescent light bulb by Thomas Alva Edison in 1879, or at least that’s what we’re all made to think considering the fact that some historians believe that there were over 20 inventors of incandescent lamps before Edison made his own, artificial lighting has really gone a long way in improving the quality of our lives. Well, long before that happened, some amazing creatures have already devised really cool mechanisms to light up the animal kingdom.

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Bioluminescence is the ability of living things to emit light. For a vast array of reasons, which include but not limited to survival, defence, or merely just showing off; these creatures emit light via really complicated chemical reactions occurring within special cells and these reactions lead to the emission of light as a product. In this post, we’re going to learn about ten of these amazing creatures and the mechanisms they use to produce light energy and glow in the dark.
Below are Ten (10) animals that emit light energy and glow in the dark.

1. You guessed it, Fireflies: 

Image source: firefly.org

Everyone loves Fireflies and they love us too, I think. The beautiful flashing light they emit in the dark is hard to ignore. They’re even commonly depicted in almost every cartoon you see on TV. It is important to note that there are over 2,000 species of Fireflies around the world. In fact, they’re the only creatures with the name ‘Fly’ that I can tolerate. Funny enough, these guys aren’t actually Flies. They belong to the family Lampyridae (which are a family of Beetles), hence, they’re commonly called winged Beetles. 

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These guys glow in the dark to attract their mates or prey creating colours which may be green, yellow or pale red. So how do they do this? Bioluminescence is possible in Fireflies thanks to a chemical reaction that occurs in special organs on the lower abdomen of the Firefly. This organ contains an enzyme called Luciferase and this enzyme acts on Luciferin (a light-emitting compound found in many Fireflies) in the presence of Oxygen, Magnesium ions and the energy from the hydrolysis of high-energy bonds in ATP. The overall reaction produces light as a by-product making these creatures glow in the dark.

2. Glow-worms: 

Image Source: i.ytimg.com

These are commonly found in New Zealand and Australia especially in the famous Waitomo caves on the North Island of New Zealand which has grown to be an attraction for Tourists from all over the world. Glow-worms are actually the Larvae of a species of Fly known as Fungus gnat. These Larvae burn off waste and attract food with the light energy they emit via bioluminescence while they mature in the favourable conditions provided by the caves. 

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Waitamo Glow-worm Caves are a must see for any traveller because it really is amazing how these worms glow in the dark.

3. The Anglerfish:

Image Source: pinterest.com

The Ocean is full of diverse and really crafty predators. Many of which have evolved certain features that make attracting prey quite easy and that’s where the Anglerfish comes in. The first time I saw this guy was in Finding Nemo and it’s not a pretty looking fish. The Anglerfish has a fleshy growth from its head called the Esca or Illicium which glows in the dark and Just like many women in the world we live in, some fishes in the ocean are attracted to shiny things and they swim towards the light only to find the Anglerfish waiting in the dark. So the Anglerfish uses this to its own advantage. Really clever isn’t it?

4. Smalleye Pygmy Sharks: 

Smalleye Pygmy Shark
Image Source: pinterest.com

As the name implies, ‘Pygmy sharks’ are one of the smallest Sharks in the world with adults measuring not more than 8.7inches (22 centimetres). Nevertheless, these sharks have evolved a mechanism that allows them to glow in the dark. It inhabits the open Ocean using its blue shining belly as camouflage. Many scientists claim that these sharks have special light-emitting organs called Photophores

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This blue-light camouflage works perfectly for the Pygmy sharks making them somewhat invincible to predators stalking them from far below the ocean surface because once you dive into the ocean and look up, the entire ocean looks blue and the Pygmy Shark’s bioluminescence allows it to blend perfectly with its surroundings.

5. Bobtail squids:

Bobtail Squid
Image source: worldalive.tumblr.com/

One very unique sea creature is the Bobtail squid and they inhabit the shallow coastal waters of the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean. Only just about the size of my thumb, this animal houses bioluminescent bacteria in special cells producing light energy. They use this light to protect themselves from predators. They can manipulate the light emitted by these bacteria controlling the direction and brightness of their glow. They spend the day hiding in the ocean floor and emerge only at night showcasing their amazing colours and using the light to navigate the dark in search of food. Just a side note, these animals are quite intelligent with their brain size bigger than you’ll actually expect from a creature this tiny.

6. Scorpions:

Image source: gizmodo.com

You may never have noticed this, but scorpions actually do glow in the dark. Well, unlike their other bioluminescent colleagues, they do not produce their own light. If you feel like seeing this for yourself, Scorpions aren’t really difficult to find. When you see one, switch on an ultraviolet lamp and watch the Scorpion glow a vibrant blue-green colour. Beautiful isn’t it? Not… I hate Scorpions and the fact that they glow makes them even weirder. 

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The reason why Scorpions glow is not really clear. Scorpions come out from their hiding places to hunt for food at night under the moonlight. The weak amounts of Ultraviolet radiation cause these creatures to glow in the moonlight. We can’t actually say their glow attracts small insects to them because there’s nothing scarier to these insects than a Scorpion that glows and wants to eat you. Their glow is as a result of the way the proteins in the exoskeleton of the Scorpion are arranged and the colour may serve as a form of identification between them. Whatever the reason for their glow, it’s still amazing to watch.

7. The Firefly Squid: 

Firefly Squid
Image source: natgeocreative.com

This squid gets its name from the flashing lights that resemble those of the Firefly. It is a member of the Cephalopod family which many other Squids belong and it is very popular in Japan because every year, millions of these tiny glowing creatures gather to spawn in the western Pacific Ocean and form what I like to call 'bioluminescent beach'. Growing to a length of about three inches, the Firefly Squid is one of the smallest Squids in the Oceans. 

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It possesses special light-producing organs called Photophores which are found in many parts of its body including the tips of its tentacles and around the eyes emitting a deep-blue light. Like the other bioluminescent creatures, the Firefly Squid has the ability to control its glow allowing it to confuse predators and attract prey. Most importantly, the Firefly Squid is believed to be the only member of the Squid family to possess coloured vision. So, these guys can actually enjoy their own light show.

8. The Black Dragonfish:

Black Dragonfish
Image source: pinterest.com

This amazing deep-sea creature uses bioluminescence to navigate the dark waters in search of prey. It is a rather strange-looking, long and slender fish with long fang-like teeth and it is found at depths of between 5000-8000 feets in the world's Oceans. What makes this creature very interesting is that they can produce light in the red/infrared range which many animals cannot perceive and also light in the blue/green range. 

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Hence, it uses infrared to its advantage to provide light for itself in the dark. Also possessing special light-emitting organs called photophores that cover the lower and upper surfaces of the animal and even beneath the eyes.

9. The Jellyfish: 

Jellyfish Glow
Image source: news.nationalgeographic.com

There’s no way we’ll talk about bioluminescence and leave out our jelly-like friends. Many species of Jellyfish are masters of bioluminescence. They use their ability to glow to surprise or frighten away predators. This works because the long tentacles of the jellyfish coupled with the light they emit make them appear larger than they are to potential predators. Some jellyfish drop their tentacles as a form of distraction that can confuse predators. Predators are typically attracted by the light of the falling tentacles and focus their attention on it instead of the jellyfish's body, which gives the jellyfish the chance to escape. Different species of Jellyfish glow differently producing different colours and it's really beautiful to watch.

10. The Flashlight Fish: 

Flashlight fish
Image source: fishindex.blogspot.com

Funny name for a creature but this fish uses Bioluminescent organs under its eyes to communicate, attract prey and confuse predators. Flashlight fish are a rarely spotted; they are nocturnal, spending daylight hours tucked into deep-water caves and crevices. The light that a flashlight fish emits can be seen from over 100 feet (30m) away!  Zooplankton is drawn to the glowing ‘eyes’ of a flashlight fish. Not only will the flashlight fish eat the zooplankton, it will also wait and consume all the small fish that come near to feed on the illuminated zooplankton. Their symbiotic bacteria are constantly producing the light-emitting chemical reaction but flashlight fish are able to rotate the photophore downward, covering the light. They use this mechanism to evade predators but shutting the light off or confusing a pursuing predator by blinking the light while swimming in a zig-zag pattern to confuse the predator.
There you have it, ten animals that glow in the dark, lighting up the animal kingdom. There is a technique called Bioluminescence imaging (BLI) that is used to study ongoing biological processes in small laboratory animals. Bioluminescence imaging (BLI) is a technology that was developed to allow the noninvasive study of biological processes occurring in small animals who voluntarily offered themselves for testing (probably not). For whatever reason, bioluminescence really is amazing. Thanks for reading, endeavour to share this with your friends using the share buttons below, it will only take a minute. If I’m forgetting something, please don’t hesitate to remind me in the comments.


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