What is Bioluminescence?

What is Bioluminescence?

Bioluminescence is light produced by living things, such as plants and animals, from a chemical reaction. The most common bioluminescent animals we see is from comb jellies and the most common bioluminescent plants we see are a group of algae called dinoflagellate plankton. 

The light is produced in specialized cells that allow chemical energy to e produced and converted into light. This chemical reaction inside the animals and plants is what we see creating bursts of light. 

Why Do Plants and Animals Create Bioluminescence?

Attracting Prey, Defense, Communication

Defense From Predators

While there are many questions still unanswered about bioluminescence, there are observations that help show how animals and plants use bioluminescence.
Bioluminescence is used frequently for defense with the belief it's used to startle predators, hide while on the waters surface from predators below, or to mislead a predator by detaching a bioluminescent organs.

Hunting Prey

Certain deep sea fish, like the popular "anglerfish," have stalked light organs that are used to lure in in prey. Animals like anglerfish are believed to use this form of bioluminescence to attract a mate.


Only a few known sea creatures are believed to use this light to communicate with each other with everything from attracting a mate to making warning signals to others.


The leading hypothesis about how bioluminescence first developed was that it helps remove oxygen that may otherwise damage the other portions of the organisms cell. chemical reaction that produces energy for bioluminescence uses a strong anti-oxidant enzyme that helps remove excess oxygen from whatever


These tiny plants are free floating algae that begin to glow after dusk, about 30 min after the end of a sunset.  

Comb Jellies

These zooplankton, an animal that can’t swim against the natural forces, like tides and currents, in the water. You can see these animals shimmering like a rainbow as they swim during the day. While kayaking or boating at night their bioluminescence bursts in flashes for about one second every time they’re moved.

Comb jellyfish in the deep

What Reaction Creates Bioluminescence?

and create by these cells is triggered by movement and caused by a chemical reaction when photoprotein enzymes react to a catalyst enzymes.

In this reaction, a small organic molecule – called the substrate – is oxidized. The reaction requires energy and is helped along by an enzyme.

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