10 Fascinating Bioluminescent Organisms

1Glowing Mushrooms (Mycena lux-coeli mushrooms)

During Japan's rainy season, a glow-in-the-dark mushroom begins to sprout in Wakayama prefecture. The Mycena lux-coeli mushrooms sprout from fallen chinquapin trees and as they grow, a chemical reaction involving a light-emitting pigment occurs, causing them to glow a ghostly green. The caps can grow to as large as 2 cm (about 1 inch) in diameter, but because the mushrooms are prone to dehydration, they only have a few days to live once the rain stops. Just goes to show you that the curiosities of the world never cease!

2Hawaiian Bobtail Squid (Euprymna scolopes)

In the darkness of the deep ocean, some animals create their own light. Among these is the Hawaiian bobtail squid Euprymna scolopes, which forms a partnership with the luminous bacterium Vibrio fischeri. The squid houses colonies of these bacteria in special light organs, and it can control the brightness and direction of their illuminations. But these organs do much more than produce light - they detect it too. The organs generate nervous signals when they sense light and they're loaded with proteins responsible for detecting it. The light organs are effectively an extra set of primitive eyes, each equipped with its own "iris" and "lens". The squid comes equipped with a pair of living, 'seeing' flashlights.

3Alarm jellyfish (Atolla wyvillei)

Some animals use their bioluminescence to "scream" for help. Once an animal is caught in the clutches of a predator, its only hope for escape may be to attract the attention of something bigger and nastier that may attack and eat whatever is about to eat it. This amazing light show is known as a "burglar alarm" display. The deep-sea jellyfish, Atolla wyvillei, is a master of this display.

4Jack-O-Lantern mushroom (Omphalotus olearius)

Through metabolic and physiological functions, all living things must produce and ultimately dispose of waste. This fungus exudes its waste through its gills, and some of these wastes are luciferases. Luciferases are enzymes commonly used for bioluminescence (or emission of light by a living organism) such as in fireflies. The Jack o'Lantern mushroom is an orange- to yellow-gill mushroom that to an untrained eye appears similar to some chanterelles.

5Luminescent Panellus (Panellus stipticus)

Panellus stipticus is a widely distributed, hardwood-rotting saprobe, but it is more common in eastern North America than in the West. It is quite tough, and revives in rainwater after drying out, like many Marasmius species. This little mushroom has reportedly been used as a styptic (blood thickening) agent, and it has luminescent gills.

6Ctenophore Bathocyroë

We probably know more about the surface of the moon than we do the ocean. Every day we discover new species. This little beauty is Bathocyroe fosteri, a lobate ctenophore found at intermediate depths in all the seas. It's very common and abundant near the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and measures about two inches tall. Because of its fragility, it was only described in 1978, when it was collected from a submersible. This genus can produce blue and green luminescence.


The dinoflagellates are a large group of flagellate protists. Most are marine plankton, but they are common in fresh water habitats as well. They are characterized by two flagella, one girdling the cell and the other trailing the cell. Some dinoflagellates exist in coral, in a symbiotic relationship. These dinoflagellates are termed the zooxanthellae. Other dinoflagellates occur in such high numbers that the water is colored red, a phenomenon known as a red tide.

8Crystal jelly (Aequorea Victoria)

Aequorea victoria, also sometimes called the crystal jelly, is a bioluminescent hydrozoan jellyfish (which is also known as hydromedusae) that is found off the west coast of North America. You may not have heard of it, but the hydromedusa Aequorea victoria is probably the most influential bioluminescent marine organism. Calcium-activated photoprotein and green-fluorescent protein (GFP) were first discovered and cloned from this cnidarian.

9Glow worm (Lampyris noctiluca)

Lampyris noctiluca, the Common Glow-worm of Europe, is a firefly species of the genus Lampyris. These are beetles as evidenced by the hard cases that fold over the wings when not in use.. The females are often twice the size of the males (up to 25mm in length), but do not have wings, whereas the males do. The females emit the glow, whereas the males do not.

10Fireflies (Photinus pyralis)

Fireflies or lightning bugs make light within their bodies. They light up to attract a mate. To do this, the fireflies contain specialized cells in their abdomen that make light.