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Sparkling. Glowing. Enlightening.

How can there be light even in the dark of the night and the depths of the ocean? Guests discovered extraordinary organisms with the ability to glow by immersing themselves in the magical world of bioluminescence!

Creatures of Light: Nature's Bioluminescence explored the natural phenomenon of ‘living light’ with a vast array of organisms, from the flickering fireflies in your backyard to the deep-sea fishes in our oceans’ darkest depths. The ability to generate light is rare among plants and animals that live on land. However, up to 90 percent of animals at depths below 2,300 feet provide the only source of light for the largest habitable space on Earth, the ocean.

Curiosity was sparked with larger-than-life models, live fish, and interactive displays in this exhibition! Guests moved through a series of re-created environments to discover the glowworm webs on the ceiling of New Zealand’s Waitomo caves, the ‘pyrotechnic’ plankton in Puerto Rico’s Mosquito Bay, and special lighting on the coral walls of the Cayman Island’s Bloody Bay. iPads featuring videos, photographs, and more helped guests discover the diversity of bioluminescent creatures.

Creatures of Light answered questions of how these organisms use light to attract mates, lure prey or fight off predators, and where, why and how scientists study these amazing creatures that glow!

Visit the exhibition's official website for more information.

Exhibition Highlights

The galleries in the Creatures of Light exhibition included:

  • Woodland Mushroom Floor
    Step into an immersive woodland environment, recreated from the forests of eastern North America. Here, bioluminescent mushrooms grow on decaying wood and cover the floor of the forest. Guests will marvel at a giant model of a jack-o-lantern mushroom- around 40 times the mushroom’s actual size! These mushroom species are very special since very few land organisms glow, but grow surprisingly close to home.
  • Summer Night Fireflies
    In a nighttime meadow in eastern North America, flashing fireflies use their own language of light to communicate with each other. Guests will experience an evening in this grassy countryside, using the “Talk to Fireflies” hands-on interactive, to mimic how this species of fireflies uses a system of flashes to attract mates, lure other firefly species in as prey, and even ward off predators by signaling that they will taste bad. Larger-than-life firefly models show guests the “lantern” that the light comes from- a tiny organ on the underside of the organism’s abdomen.
  • Mysterious Glowworm Cave
    Walk through the simulated dark and rocky Waitomo Cave in New Zealand, where the ceiling is speckled with the blue-green lights of glowworms. However, these glowworms are actually not worms at all- they are the larvae of small flies. The larvae secrete sticky threads that reflect light from their bioluminescent tails, which glow even brighter when they are hungry. One larva can produce more than forty adhesive lures to ensnare prey! Aquatic insects from the stream below fly toward the light and become trapped in the threads. Guests will also view a display of terrestrial species, including a glowing millipede model and a click beetle specimen, both of which creatively use light to ward off predators.
  • Sparkling Dinoflagellate Sea
    In a quiet lagoon in Viques, Puerto Rico, simulated microscopic dinoflagellates create glowing halos around guests’ feet as they move through this interactive bioluminescent bay. The sheltered, shallow bay is full of these marine organisms that flash when a creature bumps into them, triggering a chemical reaction that ends in a burst of light. Scientists are not sure why dinoflagellates light up on contact, but many believe the chemical reaction might act as an antioxidant to remove oxygen from their bodies, or to startle or expose predators.
  • Glowing Sea Shores
    On the Bloody Bay Wall in the Cayman Islands, fluorescence can make creatures glow by absorbing and reemitting light from an external source. This interactive coral reef wall allows guests to explore how shining blue or violet light onto coral can make them glow neon shades of pink, orange, and green. Models of jellyfish from the Pacific Ocean, which are both fluorescent and bioluminescent, light up with a mysterious green glow when touched. Guests will learn about symbiotic relationships with bioluminescent ponyfishes and live flashlight fish! Both species harbor bioluminescent bacteria in their body and continually produce light for camouflage and to attract mates.
  • Deep Ocean Predators
    In the perpetually dark deep ocean, the only light comes from bioluminescent creatures, which make up the vast majority of animals at these depths. The mysterious creatures guests will observe have very different behaviors than other bioluminescent organisms and use these adaptations of light to travel, hunt, and mate. The anglerfish uses a glowing lure to attract prey into its gaping jaws. The vampire squid, or siphonophore, entices fish towards its tentacles using red lures. The hatchetfish hides from predators below by adjusting the light on its underside to blend in with the faint light from above.

Creatures of Light: Nature's Bioluminescence is organized by the American Museum of Natural History, New York, in collaboration with the Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Canada and The Field Museum, Chicago. 

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