Sunday, November 7, 2010

Organisms that glow - Bioluminescence

These are Cypridina hilgendorfii. They belong to a class of organisms called ostracods - a type of crustacean. Too tiny to make a meal of, humans have nonetheless found a use for them. When you piss them off, they secrete a substance that glows a beautiful blue color. This species is native to Japan, and is locally called umi-hotaru, or sea firefly. They were used in WWII by Japanese soldiers to provide light to read maps and messages.
C. hilgendorfii in action. The jar is from the 1940s and yet the chemicals remain active.
Although there are tons of sea creatures that can produce their own light, many other types of organism have similar abilities. Certain insects and fungi can also give off different colors of light. The biochemical pathways for fireflies, fungi, ostracods, etc. are not all similar, suggesting that bioluminescence has evolved multiple times independently.



  1. Oooooooh such a pretty blue color. Ostracods are such funny creatures. The lab coordinator for an invertebrate zoology class i took tethered an ostracod so we could analyze how it swam. When we all looked under the microscope for the first time it was very odd but super hilarious (and cute!) to see an ostracod teathered with a fine filament to a needle like it was a dog in someone's backyard.

    Bioluminescence is so fascinating! It makes the oceans and the nighttime sky even more beautiful than they already are.