Bioluminescence from the Sky to the Ocean Depths

It is nearly one month past the summer solstice and here in southern Wisconsin, the glow of fireflies at dusk and into darkness is a summertime pleasure not to be missed.

Fireflies employ the substrate luciferin and the enzyme luciferase, to produce their bioluminescence. The flash of a firefly lantern is designed to attract a mate, although with some species the potential mate becomes prey. Different species of fireflies have different flash patterns, which helps them find one of their own, when pairing off to create new little shiners.

A Photinus sp. firefly with glowing lantern. Image from art farmer, Indiana.
A Photinus sp. firefly with glowing lantern. Image from art farmer, Indiana.

In contrast to showy bioluminescence during night time flight, ocean depths have luminescence displays from a wide variety of creatures. Many of these bioluminescent sea creatures are recent discoveries, their discovery, habitat and behavior identified with the use of mini-submarines and non-manned submersibles.

One glowing example is the cluster wink snail. Terrestrial snails have been noted to leave a slightly luminescent trail of snail mucus as they crawl. But in 2010, the cluster wink snail was noted to flash a bright green light throughout  its entire shell. What better than an illuminated shell?

The snail has been noted to light up when disturbed, perhaps because the light makes the snail look larger. Or the bright flash may attract larger predators to come closer, scaring away the initial interrogator.

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