Creatures of Light

June 2, 2021 — September 5, 2021


Timed entry only. Gallery 3, third floor.

Welcome to the world of bioluminescence—the generation of light by living things.

Explore the extraordinary organisms that blink, glow, flash, and glitter in the immersive exhibition Creatures of Light.

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Featured in Creatures of Light

From fireflies found in backyards across the Northeast to the deep-sea fishes that illuminate the perpetually dark ocean depths, discover how light is used to attract a mate, lure unsuspecting prey, or defend against predators. 

Meet the Fireflies

The insects of the world have many ways to signal one another. Several groups of insects glow, but only one, fireflies, has evolved an extraordinary language of light.

Find out how fireflies use a system of flashes in some of the same ways we use words: to attract, to say, “Here I am,” even to deceive.

A larger-than-life model of a dragonfly is suspended from the ceiling near a digital display screen that contains content about fireflies.
D. Finnin/© AMNH

A Mysterious Cave

Deep inside a New Zealand cave, hungry glowworms create a brilliant light show. Discover how these glittering glowworms use their bright tails to lure aquatic insects, then reel them in to eat their catch.

A Sparkling Sea

Imagine a midnight dip in Mosquito Bay, a quiet lagoon on the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico. Mysteriously, when you touch the waves, your hand leaves a trail of sparks in the water.

Learn all about the single-celled organisms, called dinoflagellates, that flash on contact—and shine brightest on nights following bright sunny days.

A Night Dive

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

Find out how these brilliant corals and other organisms, including jellyfish, absorb one color of light, and emit light of another color—and how scientists have turned fluorescence into an important biological tool.

The Deep Ocean

Descend into an alien world where the only glimmers of light are made by living things. 

Here, living creatures never see the light of day. Instead of relying on sunlight, animals like deep-sea squid and anglerfish flash and sparkle like fireworks.

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.

Generous support for Creatures of Light has been provided by the Eileen P. Bernard Exhibition Fund.