Science Natural Science 8 Brilliant Bioluminescent Creatures These glow-in-the-dark animals are nature's nightlights. By Margaret Badore Writer Columbia University Sarah Lawrence College Margaret Badore is a multimedia reporter in New York City. She wrote for Treehugger from 2013 to 2015, and is now web director at the YEARS Project. our editorial process Facebook Facebook Twitter Twitter Margaret Badore Updated July 28, 2020 Bobtail squid. by wildestanimal / Getty Images Share Twitter Pinterest Email Science Space Natural Science Technology Agriculture Energy Bioluminescence seems almost like magic. Organisms have evolved the ability to produce light for different reasons: to trick predators, to attract mates, and even to communicate. The diversity of creatures with this ability is equally astonishing, from the common firefly to deep-sea dwellers that are rarely seen by humans. What is also fascinating is that many of these creatures are not closely related, and bioluminescent traits have evolved separately dozens of times. 1 of 8 Fireflies Ali Majdfar / Getty Images Fireflies, also known as lightning bugs, are one of the most common examples of bioluminescence. They have a special organ that produces light through a chemical reaction. Fireflies use flashing light to attract mates, but begin emitting light even as larvae. They belong to the Lampyridae family, and there are 2,000 species around the world, many of which have distinct flashing patterns. 2 of 8 Glowworms Jasius / Getty Images The glowworm beetle, known as Phengodidae, is a distinct family of bioluminescent insect. Both the female glowworm beetle and the larvae produce light. The glowworm is found in North and South America and has a series of organs that emit light. Female glowworms are sometimes called railroad worms because the lights in their body resemble the cars on a train. 3 of 8 Millipedes Eden, Janine and Jim / Flickr / CC BY 2.0 The Motyxia millipede, also commonly known as the Sierra luminous millipede, is another bioluminescent invertebrate. In a paper published in Current Biology, researchers report that this millipede's bright light is a warning to predators that it is highly toxic. Motyxia defends itself by oozing cyanide, but the light tells predators to stop before they take a bite. After a 50-year absence, the millipede Xystocheir bistipita was rediscovered. This species, which is also bioluminescent, is considered an evolutionary sister of Motyxia. 4 of 8 Comb Jelly LagunaticPhoto / Getty Images Most bioluminescent creatures are found in the ocean, often at depths below the reach of sunbeams. Some species of comb jellies, or Ctenophora, are examples of this. The comb jelly produces blue or green light, but the movement of its combs can scatter the light, producing a rainbow effect. The light produced by comb jellies can be used to both confuse and attract predators. 5 of 8 Bobtail Squid Hans Hillewaert / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0 The bobtail squid has formed a symbiotic relationship with bioluminescent bacteria known as Vibrio fischeri. In exchange for food, the glowing bacteria help the squid camouflage itself at night. The bacteria live under the surface of the squid's mantle, which can act as a filter to control the brightness of the light. 6 of 8 Lanternfish SEFSC Pascagoula Laboratory; Collection of Brandi Noble, NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain The name lanternfish may be given to any number of fish species belonging to the Myctophidae family. Lanternfish are abundant deep-sea creatures, with over 250 species. Each species has a specific pattern of light organs. They utilize their bioluminescence to observe prey and predators, for camouflage, and to attract mates. 7 of 8 Anglerfish Masaki Miya et al. / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0 The long protrusion on anglerfish's head is called a lure, and it does exactly what it sounds like: attracts prey and mates. The bacteria that fills the lure allow this deep-sea fish to make its own light. Only female anglerfish, which are larger, have the special lighted lure. The smaller male anglerfish have a parasitic relationship with the female. 8 of 8 Krill Roger Tidman / Getty Images Most types of krill, tiny shrimp-like creatures, are bioluminescent. Their light-emitting organs are driven by an enzyme reaction. Near the bottom of the food chain, krill feed on plankton and are the primary food source for many ocean animals. Krill, which travel in great numbers, may use bioluminescence to communicate. These creatures are responsible for the amazing effect of glowing waves that can be seen in the video below.