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Bioluminescence is visible light generated by living things through a chemical reaction. The light we know best—incandescent light—is associated with heat. Bioluminescence, on the other hand, is cold light.

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The insects of the world have many ways to signal one another. Among them are color, scent, sound—and light. Several groups of insects glow, but only one, fireflies, has evolved an extraordinary language of light.

Glowworm thumb


Deep inside a New Zealand cave, hungry glowworms create a brilliant light show. Bioluminescence isn’t common on land—which makes it seem even more magical when it does appear.

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Delicate jellyfish drift near the shores of the Pacific Ocean, combing the water for prey. Touch these jellies, and they flash green light. Scientists harness this light for biological and medical research.

Flashlight Fish thumb

Flashlight Fish

Live flashlight fish, which are part of the exhibition, typically hide along deep reefs and only venture out on moonless nights, wearing living lamps to light their way.



Picture a world of perpetual darkness—where living creatures come and go, never seeing the light of day. Instead of relying on sunlight, these animals flash and sparkle like fireworks.

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Fluorescent Corals

When night falls on a coral reef, the dazzling colors of daytime disappear. But if divers shine blue or violet light, another view emerges: corals now glow in neon shades of pink, orange, and green.

American Museum of Natural History

Central Park West at 79th Street
New York, NY 10024-5192
Phone: 212-769-5100

Open daily from 10 am - 5:45 pm
except on Thanksgiving and Christmas
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