Beyond Fireflies: Bioluminescent Organisms

When it comes to bioluminescence, the first organism we typically think of would be the all-familiar firefly (also known as lightning bug). As land animals, fireflies are our most noticeable exposure to the reaction in which chemical energy is converted to light. But did you know that terrestrial bioluminescence is actually pretty rare and it occurs most frequently in marine wildlife? It’s true! Down in the depths of the ocean, light is scarce and bioluminescence can have multiple functions. According to the National Ocean Service, it can be used to warn or evade predators, to lure or detect prey, or to communicate with members of the same species.

I recently came upon this fascinating infographic that illuminates (haha!) all the different organisms that are bioluminescent. It’s a beautiful representation of how widely occurring bioluminescence is across land and sea. Make sure to click on the infographic to view a larger version.

Infographic of bioluminescent organisms. Poster created by Eleanor Lutz.

Infographic of bioluminescent organisms. Click image to view full size poster. Poster created by Eleanor Lutz.

We’ve also seen some real-life examples caught on camera and submitted to our annual National Wildlife Photo Contest.  Have you witnessed bioluminescence in person? We’d love to know – make sure to share in the comments!

Bioluminescent Jellyfish. Photo National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Janis Bowman.

Bioluminescent Jellyfish. Photo by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Janis Bowman.


Bioluminescent Jellyfish. Photo by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Tim Newland.

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