A Bright Light From The Depths

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Firefly
Firefly At Night | Photo by Tourde Farm

I have written about many things that have changed in this world of ours since my childhood. Looking back to when I was growing up in Rochester, New York I often think of one of my favorite things to do.

Lightning Bugs at Night | Photo by pestworld.org

I really enjoyed catching lightning bugs, putting them in a jar for a while and watching them light up. I’ll never forget seeing them fill up a tree with enough lights that it looked like a Christmas tree. I was enthralled by them well before I knew how they produced the bright light.

Lampyridae, Beetle In The Order Coleoptera (Daytime) | Photo by pestworld.org

The process that gives lightning bugs their glow is called bioluminescence. According to Wikipedia ” The Lampyridae are a family of insects in the beetle order Coleoptera with more than 2,000 described species. They are soft-bodied beetles that are commonly called fireflies, glowworms, or lightning bugs for their conspicuous use of bioluminescence during twilight to attract mates or prey.” I saw them in other towns in which I lived from New York State, to Wisconsin to Indiana and South Carolina. After moving farther west I haven’t seen them since. They aren’t the only creatures to exhibit that glow. The list of organisms which produce light this way range from the terrestrial, to the marine, and even microorganisms.

It seems that a creature not known for its bioluminescent ability has been recently found to have that special glow. That creature is a shark. An NBC story titled “Sharks that glow in the dark? Scientists discover luminous deep-sea predators off New Zealand” was written by Yasmine Salam. The researchers found not one, not two, but three new shark species that actually glow in the dark and published their findings in The Frontiers in Marine Science Journal.

Kitefin Shark With and Without Glow| Photo by Dr. J. Mallefet, FNRS UCLouvain

One of those three glowing sharks is the kitefin shark which is now the largest known luminous underwater creature growing to nearly six feet long. The other two species are the blackbelly lantern shark and the southern lantern shark. According to their study: “Bioluminescence has often been seen as a spectacular yet uncommon event at sea but considering the vastness of the deep sea and the occurrence of luminous organisms in this zone, it is now more and more obvious that producing light at depth must play an important role structuring the biggest ecosystem on our planet.”

Map Showing Location Of Chatham Rise | Image by wikipedia.com

These sharks were discovered in the ocean off New Zealand’s east coast in January last year in an area known as the Chatham Rise. They live at a depth called the ocean’s “twilight zone” from between 200 meters to 1,000 meters (3,200 feet) below sea level where light from the surface cannot penetrate. With such a lack of light penetration the process of photosynthesis is inhibited. The scientists say that the kitefin shark has few if any predators, so they theorize that it uses its glow not to fend of an enemy as much as to illuminate the sea floor while hunting for food.

I have heard some scientists say we have explored space more and know more about what’s out there than we have explored and understood the depths of Earth’s deep oceans. Obviously more research is needed and will continue.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

Tim Chuey is a Member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association and has been Awarded Seals of Approval for television weathercasting from both organizations.

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