That Natural Glow

Bioluminescence occurs when an organism produces light or emits a glow – either with the help of a symbiotic organism or on its own (autogenic bioluminescence). However complex the biological explanation, the end result looks like something from another planet.  
In celebration of the incredible Lightplay Jellyfish Bloom installation currently dazzling visitors to Westpoint, we’ve listed four of the most impressive examples of bioluminescence found in nature.

Waves of Light
The ocean is home to many bioluminescent creatures, from the deep-sea anglerfish, which dangles a bioluminescent appendage to lure small fish, to the crystal jelly, a fluorescent jellyfish that regularly appears off the west coast of North America. 
In certain parts of the world, blooms of iridescent algae gather to cover the surface of the ocean turning waves into a neon blue lightshow that can be seen from the beach. Just recently, this very process lit up the San Diego shoreline, and the phenomenon is known to occur around the world, typically when the sea’s temperature is relatively warm. 
The glowing tides are visible at night following a ‘red tide’ – so called because the organisms appear red in daylight. While there is no way to predict when or where the algae will appear, the glow is caused by a bioluminescent phytoplankton that glows blue when threatened.

An aurora, also referred to as the northern lights or southern lights, is a natural light display which occurs predominantly around the Arctic and Antarctic regions. 
The ethereal lightshow often appears as curtains of light, but they can also be seen as arcs or spirals. So what causes it? When charged particles emitted from the sun collide with atoms in the Earth’s magnetic shield, the electrons within the atoms release a photon: light. The result is an entrancing, magical light show that occurs between 10° and 20° latitude from the geomagnetic poles. The colours depend on the type of gas particles colliding, with red occurring at high altitudes, and the more common green, blue, yellow and even pink occurring at lower altitudes. 

Glow worms, Fireflies and Gnats
The world is home to several hundred species of bioluminescent insects and while flying beetles such as fireflies can exhibit bioluminescence, it is usually the wingless female “glow worm” that creates the most impressive spectacle.
The New Zealand glow worm is a species of fungus gnat that is widespread throughout north and south New Zealand and mainly found in wet caves, grottoes and humid, sheltered forests. The glow worm’s blue-green glow is the result of a chemical reaction known as chemiluminescence – which is way too complicated to explain here but a fascinating read if you want to dig deeper.

Glowing Fungus
Foxfire, fairy fire, will-o-the-wisp… the mesmerising blue-green glow emitted by certain species of fungi goes by many names and is an ancient forest wonder of mythical legend. Typically found on rotting logs in old oak forests and said to emit enough light to read by, the glow is the result of the same chemiluminescent process that occurs in glow worms. It’s widely believed that the light attracts insects to spread spores as well as acting as a deterrent to hungry animals.  

While we’d generally advise against eating anything that glows, kids can enjoy their very own fluffy clouds of glowing fairy floss at Westpoint until 20 May. Visit the Lightplay Launch event from 17th-20th May or come and see the Jellyfish Bloom in centre until 10th June.