What is Bioluminescence?
Bioluminesence is the scientific term used to describe the production of light by a living organism. There are many bioluminescent creatures found in the water. Some of them are found deep at the bottom of the sea, others on the surface of the ocean.
The light that is produced by bioluminescent life forms is produced because of the energy that is released as a result of chemical reactions that occur inside the organism �” or, in some case, in the reactions that occur in chemicals that the creature excretes.
Fireflies are another bioluminescent organism �” and one that most people are familiar with. Ocean-dwelling bioluminescent organisms are far more common that you might think. Indeed, there are a huge number of bacteria that are bioluminescent, and there are even some bigger animals that can create light, as well.
The function of bioluminescence is not always clear. Some creatures use it to detect prey, or to lure prey to a given area. Some use it for communication. You can actually see bioluminescence on a bioluminescence kayak tour in the Cayman Islands. It is an incredible thing to behold, especially when it is done by bigger creatures. Jellyfish, starfish, squid, and even sharks have bioluminescent creatures among their members.
Bioluminescent organisms use an enzyme and a substrate to create light, but the exact chemicals differ between species. The ability to make light is something that is thought to have evolved on many occasions throughout history. Scientists have so far identified 40 occasions where the ability has evolved independently.
Light is important in the ocean �” even though deep ocean environments do not get daylight on their own, it benefits creatures to be able to see, so the ability to luminesce is a survival advantage for those organisms, because it helps them to find food, and to perform reproductive functions. It can also give them a communication and defense mechanism.
Scientists do not know a lot about the living light, and it is hard to know exactly how the creatures use their abilities, because the organisms are hard to observe. Man-made lights used on cameras could permanently blind the animals, or at the very least scare them away, and some animals are camouflaged or transparent, so are hard to see on camera. Others glow with a light that is not easy to detect with a camera. It is hard to collect samples of the animals and watching them in their native habitat is a challenge.