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A N N O U N C E M E N T S   (Updated:  Jun 5, 2023 )  

  • Educating and inspiring since 1997

  • This review paper covering research on bioluminescence provides an in-depth resource.

  • Capturing videos of bioluminescence from the deep sea.

  • An enchanting article for kids talks about the hows and whys of bioluminescence.

  • Video about Fluorescence describes a way that animals use it in the ocean, and the difference between fluorescence and bioluminescence.

  • A set of U.S. Postal Stamps celebrates bioluminescence, and includes one of our photos from this site.

  • The New York Times used our images in a special feature on bioluminescence research.

  • We have updated our Photo page with one-of-a-kind color photos of luminescent organisms.

  • A in-depth study shows that more than 3/4ths of the macroscopic organisms living in the water deep water column are bioluminescent.

  • An article by Stephanie Yin talks about the search for chemical origins of bioluminescence in Quanta Magazine.

  • We updated our Chemistry Page with some up-to-date additions of organisms that use coelenterazine as their luciferin.

  • An interesting essay by Ferris Jabr about the cultural history of bioluminescence has been posted at Hakai Magazine.

  • E. Newton Harvey, one of the pioneers of bioluminescence research, wrote a book that is now available online, called The History of Luminescence.

  • About that "glowing" sea turtle, and the "glowing" shark: These animals are NOT bioluminescent -- they have some autofluorescence in their shell and skin. (The use of the terms biofluorescence and glowing makes things confusing.) It is not being excited by UV light but rather by blue light. There is not necessarily any functional significance of this effect. Even your fingernails will fluoresce, because they also contain keratin. The turtle also has some algae glowing on its shell, which is providing the red fluorescence. All chlorophyll fluoresces red, including land plants. So in a way, a monkey holding a leaf could also be said to fluoresce in this way.

  • National Geographic Magazine has a well-written article about bioluminescence by Olivia Judson. They also used our functions diagram as the basis for their (somewhat) animated graphic.

  • Content of interest:
    • We have added a section describing the many functions that bioluminescence serves in the sea, and updated the tree of life.

    • Our Mail Bag section is currently online. Here we post answers to questions that have been sent to us over the years.

  • Read more about the site and see some of the other pages linking to us at the bottom of the About page.


Bioluminescence is simply light produced by a chemical reaction which originates in an organism.

It can be expected anytime and in any region or depth in the sea. Its most common occurrence to the sailor is in the often brilliantly luminescent bow wave or wake of a surface ship. In these instances the causal organisms are almost always dinoflagellates, single-cell algae, often numbering many hundreds per liter.

Aristostomias pic

They are mechanically excited to produce light by the ship's passage or even by the movement of porpoises and smaller fish.
The deep-sea fish Aristostomias has more than one light organ. Read more about this and other amazing adaptations.   (Illustration © Steven Haddock)

Bioluminescence is a primarily marine phenomenon. It is the predominant source of light in the largest fraction of the habitable volume of the earth, the deep ocean . In contrast, bioluminescence is essentially absent (with a few exceptions) in fresh water, even in Lake Baikal. On land it is most commonly seen as glowing fungus on wood (called foxfire), or in the few families of luminous insects. (For firefly information, try here.)

Bioluminescence has evolved many times in many taxonomically distinct species in the sea as evidenced by the several distinct chemical mechanisms In these organisms in serves many functions, some of which have not yet been explored.

Bioluminescent bacteria occur nearly everywhere, and probably most spectacularly as the rare "milky sea" phenomenon, particularly in the Indian Ocean where mariners report steaming for hours through a sea glowing with a soft white light as far as the eye can see.

Find out more about the basic properties of bioluminescence.


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