Bioluminescence: 9 Incredible Glowing Sea Creatures

Bioluminescence is one of nature’s most amazing phenomena! Take a cyber scuba dive and check out these amazing glow in the dark creatures.

Certain organisms have the ability to generate and emit light through chemical reactions with oxygen.

Many animals use bioluminescence as camouflage, to attract mates or to scare off predators.

It is estimated that 90% of deep-sea marine animals can produce bioluminescence — light shows that us land-dwellers never get to see.

1) Bigfin Reef Squid

This warm-water dwelling squid is found in the tropical waters of Hawaii, the Phillipines and the Red Sea, and is the most common squid species served as calamari.

Bigfin reef squid use their bioluminescence skills to both communicate and camouflage.

Male reef squid have the ability to change multiple colors simultaneously–while protecting a female mate who is laying eggs on the seafloor, the male’s underside is a calm white color while his upper body flashes angry warning colors to potential predators.


2) Ctenophora

Also known as “comb jellies,” ctenophora emit a blue or green light that can only be seen in the dark.

They also secrete ink that luminesces most brightly in the smaller bodies of young comb jellies.

A rainbow effect is created when light scatters through the distinctive comb-like tentacles of the ctenophore.


3) Alarm Jellyfish

Alarm jellyfish (scientific name Atolla wyvillei) flash an amazing light show when caught in the clutches of a predator.

This “burglar alarm” can be seen as far away as 300 feet and is is meant to attract an animal even larger to attack the predator.

Researchers in Florida are able to capture stunning images like this one by using an automatic underwater camera that flashes an un-obstrusive red light to record illuminated footage.

NOAA Ocean Explorer

4) Dinoflagellates

The most common bioluminescent creatures are the microscopic, plant-like Dinoflagellates that are found in warm tropical bays in places like Jamaica and Puerto Rico.

These organisms flash blue light when threatened or caught in a wave.

What appears to be a huge area of light is really the result of thousands of individual flashes–the effect is stunning.


5) Hawaiian Bobtail Squid

Native to the islands of Hawaii and the Central Pacific Ocean, the Bobtail Squid uses bioluminescence to camouflage itself by matching  its underside to the shade of light illuminating the water above it.

Though the  light is generated by the colonies of luminous bacteria housed in the squid’s organs, the host squid can control the direction and the brightness of the flashes of light.


6) Crystal Jellyfish

The crystal jellyfish, or Aequorea victoria, is found off the west coast of North America and was discovered for the first time in Britain’s waters in 2009.

It produces intense flashes of blue light by releasing calcium and its usually clear membrane sometimes glows an eerie green.

This jellyfish is considered one of the most influential bioluminescent creatures due to its usefulness in scientific research and the potential to use  its light proteins in cancer detection.


7) Barbeled Dragonfish

This terrifying fish gets its name from the light-emitting barbel that hangs from the lower jaw and is used like a fishing rod to attract prey.

It also has photophores scattered over the length of its scale-less body and fins.

These allow the dragonfish to move the light around as it swims the deep waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.


8) Glowing Coral

Many different species of coral, like the one pictured here from Portugal, are bioluminescent.

Scientists are unsure why the corals glow blue, but they think it may serve as a warning to other organisms that the coral’s prickly spines are covered in a potentially toxic slime.


9) Tomopteris Plankton

This sea worm is the only organism capable of yellow bioluminescence.

When disturbed, it releases a flurry of glowing sparks from its foot-like appendages that are called parapodia.


Know of any other amazing glowing animals? Spotted any of these underwater light shows across the world? Let me know!

If you liked this, you might also like: Why Scuba Diving Could Soon Become Extinct

Main image: michiexile

14 thoughts on “Bioluminescence: 9 Incredible Glowing Sea Creatures”

  1. Very cool photographs. We saw bioluminescence for the first time in Thailand this year. We hadn’t experienced it before. We stayed out on a remote island and paddled through the glowing water. It was incredible. We saw the plankton. When you disrupt the water they become visible. It would be amazing to see the larger jelly fish.

  2. We were enjoying swimming in the bioluminescent plankton filled water east of San Juan PR recently. It was fantastic. But then we noticed a much larger light that swam up to us. It was at or near the bottom at about 5’ depth. The light was bright in the moonless night. It just slowly flashed on and off in approximate 2 second intervals while slowly swimming around. It was bright white. After a solid 30 minutes we left the area but could still see the light from the beach perhaps 150 to 200 yards out! I’ve been trying to figure what it was but nothing I read seems to accurately describe it. Any ideas?

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