Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sea Monsters: All Aglow

Bioluminescence is defined as the generation of light by living organisms. While there are animals on land that depend on this process, lightening bugs for instance, the vast majority of bioluminescent creatures are found in the ocean.

article from the good folks at Wired gives us a glimpse of the beauty found in these glowing animals that tend to inhabit the deepest parts of the seas. From the article:

Researchers estimate that between 80 and 90 percent of deep-dwelling animals are bioluminous, creating light by mixing the pigment luciferin with luciferase, the enzyme that makes it glow. The light tends to green and blue, colors that travel far in seawater. Glowing helps attract mates, lure prey or confound predators.

There are actually two types of bioluminescence which both work on the principle of mixing pigment. The most predominant, particularly in the ocean, is intracellular. The animal in question generates the light itself in special cells known as photophores. The other type of bioluminescence is extracellular and is made by symbiotic bacteria within the body of the host.

Scientists believe that the primary reason for the evolution of photophores in sea creatures is camouflage. A fish or squid that can mask its silhouette by matching the background of its environment is counterilluminated and will therefore blend in. The fact that most bioluminescent fish have photophores located on their ventral surface lends credence to this theory.

As noted in the article, ocean dwellers also attract prey with glowing lures. A good example of this is the deep sea angler fish with its horrific teeth and glowing lantern. Although the theory of using bioluminescence to attract a mate or mates seems reasonable on the surface, some scientists argue that the same sexy glow that got the girl could also easily attract predators, and get you eaten. Most fascinating of all, at least to me, are the mobile sea creatures that use bioluminescence as a kind of flashlight to illuminate their environment. Notable among these is Histioteuthius, a type of squid with photophores around one eye.

Click over and spend a minute or two marveling at, and learning a little bit about, just a few of these fascinating and beautiful fellow sons and daughters of Neptune. We’re all sailors, after all, but only these guys can light their own way in the dark.

Header: Deiopea Jellyfish via


Jacqueline Howett said...

A very interesting read. I now live in Florida, and sometimes when I swim late at night there is little lights in the water if I swoosh about the water, is this the same thing?

Love your site. It's different, and all thats the sea, I do love.

Jacqueline Howett Author of The Greek Seaman, a seafaring novel.

You shoukd check out my site, I have a video up right now by Nikos Xiloris. He dedicates a song and video at sea for all Seaman's wives. I thought it was a good tie in to my novel.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Jacqueline and thankee indeed. I think it is the same thing. I remember the glowing algae we used to see at Laguna Beach occasionally back in my So Cal days. Really astonishing to witness and, as I understand it, illuminated by extracellular bioluminescence.

Thanks to for the link to your site. Good stuff! If you ever plan to be in Anchorage drop me a line; I know a great place to do a book signing!

Timmy! said...

Ahoy Pauline! Those are very cool... and saying that it is "illuminated by extracellular bioluminescence" is a much nicer description than the one a friend of mine used to use: "it looks like the ocean has a yeast infection"... just saying.

Jacqueline Howett said...

Cool! okay. Thank you.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! Yeah; let's keep it "scientific" shall we?

Charles L. Wallace said...

Interesting to sail in such waters - the luminescence makes for a lighted tail; at night, pointed right at your ship. Good thing we use RADAR and such for fire control nowadays :-)

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Charles! Interesting; thankee indeed.