Have you ever wondered what makes a firefly glow? Some of you who are lucky, might have also seen an ocean filled with glowing blue stars under your feet. The view is so mesmerizing that you are bound to get lost in the beauty, nature has to offer.
But have you ever wondered, “Who the hell lit them up”? Probably not, because you were too busy just admiring the show. Anyways, that’s fine, I know the lighting is perfect. But for those who gave it a thought and might be wondering about it, this magnificent phenomenon is called as Bioluminescence.
Speaking in geeky terms , Bioluminescence is a biological process through which light is produced and emitted by a living organism resulting from a chemical reaction occurring within the body of the organism .The process of bioluminescence requires the presence of two chemicals ,a pigment called luciferin and an enzyme called luciferase .When luciferin reacts with oxygen in the presence of the catalyst luciferase ,a byproduct known as oxyluciferin is produced .This oxyluciferin is the luminescent light which is emitted by bioluminescent creatures. Most of the times, it is the tiny microorganisms harbored inside various glands of the organisms that produce this light and in return they get food from the organism.
As common this phenomenon is, it is also Magical. Well, common because everyone must have seen fireflies glow green or seas glowing blue mostly due to dinoflagellates, but the magical part lies within the organisms which we would never expect to glow. For example, Chorla, a place in the Western Ghats of India, 60 kilometers away from Panaji, is known for its sightings of the beautiful glowing mushrooms. This would just be beginning , the number of bioluminescent organisms vary from terrestrial organisms like some species of snails , glowworms, millipedes to marine species of jellyfish, comb jellies, squids ,anglerfish ,lantern fish and many more species of mollusks and fishes . According to biologists there are around 700 genus of bioluminescent organisms belonging to 14 different phylla .Apart from the typical blue –green species some species also emit red or yellow lights.
It is the mystical appearances of this phenomenon that astound me .The habitats and the adaptations these organisms have acquired is like an allusion from science fiction. You must have heard about the Ninja Turtles in comics. Well, I don’t know if they are actually hiding in some sewer but I can tell you about a shark who exhibits qualities of a ninja. It is called as the Ninja lantern shark. With evolved predation techniques, this shark has appearances of a Ninja and has few organs that glow. This technique which is not yet adapted by any human ninja is used to lure their prey towards them while the ninja outfit helps them to camouflage. If you wish to see these Badass Ninjas, you can find them off the Pacific coast of Central America at depths ranging between 2,700 and 4,700 feet (836 – 1,443 m). This location also promises many other mystical creatures of nature, hence scientists from many institutes are carrying out various expeditions in this area. So why not tag along. If you are lucky you might find some of these mysterious creatures here.
Pic Credits: Vicky Vasquez: Journal of Ocean science foundation.
If you don’t have the patience to find glowing ninja sharks but still wish to witness the enigmatic world of bioluminescence, then do plan your next vacation to New Zealand. Waitomo caves in New Zealand is the habitat to the glowworm Arachnocampa luminosa which is indigenous to New Zealand. This niche made by the larvae of insects, illuminate the caves displaying a marvel of Mother Nature.
Pic Credits:Joseph Michael
This would just be the beginning, as only a small five percent of the ocean has been explored till now. With increasing depths in the ocean the probability of finding such creatures and phenomena increase. So do look out for such opportunities ,to dive deep into oceans as you might be the lucky one to witness some mysterious creatures or might even stumble upon glowing underwater caves .However, do not get confused by some organisms that just shine . These organisms just absorb and reflect lights and are called Bio fluorescent. Hence you must be really lucky to witness the bioluminescent ones.
Happy searching and do let me know about such bioluminescent mysterious organisms you have come across in your life.