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Fireflies

As Firefly Numbers Seem to Slide, Researchers Ponder Effects on Ecosystems

On Exhibit posts

Firefly larvae are voracious predators, feeding on snails, slugs, and earthworms and keeping ecosystems in delicate balance. Many are stocking up on food for their whole adulthood, throughout which they will never eat. Some climb trees in pursuit of arboreal snails. Others have gills like fish that allow them to dive for aquatic snails, whose shells they then use for protection like hermit crabs. In parts of Asia, a large mollusk called an apple snail has ravaged important crops such as rice, and firefly larvae are being explored as a potential form of biocontrol to protect those nations’ food supply.

Tags: Bioluminescence

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Creatures of Light: Inside the Studio

On Exhibit posts

Months before the opening of Creatures of Light on March 31, a team of preparators at the Museum began developing custom models of glowing organisms that light up the exhibition. Director of Exhibition Design Michael Meister and other members of the Exhibition Department share how they conduct visual research for these unique models, work with curators to make them scientifically accurate, and meet the various lighting challenges of creating an exhibition about bioluminescence.

Tags: Bioluminescence

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Creatures of Light Offers Window Into Bioluminescent World

On Exhibit posts

The Museum’s latest exhibition, which lets visitors explore a series of ecosystems that sparkle with radiant creatures, is a uniquely immersive experience.

En route to the deep-sea homes of luminous fishes, visitors walk through a field of flashing fireflies, explore caves strung with jewel-like glowworms, and “wade” through a digital bioluminescent bay that glitters underneath each step. Overhead, a symphonic soundtrack composed by Tom Phillips helps set a distinct mood for each section, contributing to a magical setting in what Edward Rothstein of The New York Timescalled “a thoroughly engrossing exhibition.”

Tags: Bioluminescence

Fireflies

Reading the Language of Firefly Flashes

On Exhibit posts

Flashing flirted its way up the firefly family tree. These beetles’ evolutionary history shows a strange metamorphosis unfolding. Firefly eyes grow bigger, more bug-like, as the insects’ light organs enlarge. Their antennae, used like a nose to follow pheromones, shrink into stubs. The more important bioluminescent courtship signaling became throughout their history, the more the trappings of invisible communication faded out.

When Marc Branham, a professor of entomology at the University of Florida, began researching fireflies, he assumed such a beloved animal would be a textbook case in entomology. He was shocked to learn how little scientists knew about the common insect.

Tags: Bioluminescence

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Bioluminescence Across the Tree of Life

On Exhibit posts

Curator John Sparks is blogging weekly about the Museum’s upcoming exhibition, Creatures of Light, which opens on Saturday, March 31.

Many people are familiar with the summertime flashing patterns of fireflies and have seen images of bizarre bioluminescent deep-sea fishes. However, few realize how pervasive bioluminescence is throughout the tree of life. Bioluminescence is  known to occur in bacteria, protists, fungi, crustaceans, insects, worms, ctenophores, jellyfishes, squids, starfishes, sea cucumbers, tunicates, and fishes—not to mention sharks—as well as numerous additional invertebrate lineages.

Tags: Bioluminescence

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