The BBC has done some incredible film-making when it comes to wildlife. They have recently filmed a dazzling phenomena involving bioluminescent crustacean larvae. Bioluminescence is the ability of an organism to emit light. It is often found in marine life, but also on land; fireflies are a good example. In marine life it is often used as a method of being seen in dark, deep ocean waters. In the BBC video the larvae of a crustacean called a ostracod is offered as food to the cardinal fish. Once the fish consumes the ostracod it emits a burst of light, which then causes the fish to spit it out in a fantastic laser like display. The theory is that the cardinal fish does not want to be seen by its predators, therefore when the ostracod emits the light, the fish wants to get rid of it quickly. The ostracod gets a new lease on life, and the cardinal fish keeps safe from hungry hunters. Sounds like a happy ending for all!
Bioluminescence in the ocean is not too difficult to see yourself if you know what to look for. Dinoflagellates are bioluminescent plankton that light up when disturbed. There are some areas where swimming amongst them will initiate a fascinating light show. One popular location to try this is the Bioluminescent Bay in Puerto Rico. On ocean beaches from Oregon to the coast of Maine you can see these dinoflagellates light up the wet sand just by scraping your hands through it on a dark night. Another wonder of nature, you just have to be patient, present and know where to look!
Read more and see the video:
Resources on Bioluminescence:
Encyclopedia entry from National Geographic Education
TED talk: Edith Widder- "The weird, wonderful world of bioluminescence"
High School Science Fair Project Idea on Bioluminescence