Creatures of Light: Nature's Bioluminescence at the Field Museum
Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence opens today, March 7, and runs through September 8, 2013, at The Field Museum. The exhibition, organized by the American Museum of Natural History, in collaboration with the Canadian Museum of Nature, and The Field Museum, is sure to be a treat for adults as well as children.
However, not children who are afraid of the dark. In order to illustrate the wonder of bioluminescence – the production and emission of light by a living organism – Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence is necessarily a pretty dark place. The exhibits move from models of terrestrial environments to the deep sea and everything in between.
Press – along with a class of second graders – was invited to preview Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence. The exhibition’s displays were heavy on large-scale models of fungus, fauna, and all the other bioluminescent things that can be found in the world, and also a whole lot of information. I was fascinated by the multitude of facts on glowing critters, and read just about every display available in the exhibition, something in which the second graders had very little interest. They did have fun screaming in the dark.
My guess is that children slightly older and/or fascinated by biology would have a wonderful time. One display allows participants to “talk” to fireflies – not flies at all, but beetles – using particular patterns of flashing lights. Another shows underground glowworms in a model cave environment.
There’s a lot to be learned at Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence. Bioluminescent creatures and substances produce their own light. Biofluorescence requires a light source so the light can be absorbed and in turn emitted at a different wavelength. There’s a jellyfish that is both bioluminescent and biofluorescent – the light it emits from one part of its body is absorbed and emitted as another color by another part of its body.
Bioluminescence is relatively rare on terra firma, but incredibly common in the sea, especially at depths below 2,300 feet where the only light available comes from within deep sea creatures. The light is used mostly to lure prey, and in some clever ways. The female anglerfish has what looks like a fishing line with a bright lure coming out of her head and poised just above her very scary jaws. The stoplight loosejaw is one of the rare deep sea animals that can see red light, and the only one to emit red light. It uses light that other creatures can’t see to illuminate, for example, red shrimp, which are usually camouflaged in the vast blue water.
There’s such thing as a vampire squid that didn’t take much imagination in the naming. Some animals light up due to chemical reactions within their bodies – luciferin and luciferase work together in the presence of oxygen – while others ingest bioluminescent bacteria that settle in certain areas of their bodies. Both methods of bioluminescence are meant to attract prey and mates, and to ward off enemies.
There are a lot of other Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence facts I could throw at you but it’d be better if you made it to the exhibition before it closes on September 8, 2013. So long as there aren’t any screaming children around, Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence is relaxing – the classical music and low light help.
If, for some reason, you’re still not convinced, take a look at the iPad app that is a companion to the exhibition. If interested in more information there's a Stuff You Should Know episode on bioluminescence.
Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence is discounted for Chicago residents and included in both the Discovery and All-Access passes to the museum.