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11 Things In Nature You Didn’t Know Could Glow In The Dark

Who knew fungus gnats could be so magical?

1. When fireflies blink, they might be flirting.

11 Things In Nature You Didn't Know Could Glow In The Dark

How else would two beetles romance each other on a dark summer evening? Blinks are a part of their mating ritual, but they can also function as a reminder to enemies that they wouldn’t taste very good.

Of the species that glow, each has its own light pattern, according to National Geographic. Some fireflies can even synchronize their lights!

2. These crystal jellies led to a Nobel Prize (and many green-hued animals).

These crystal jellies led to a Nobel Prize (and many green-hued animals).
Gary Kavanagh / Thinkstock

Ever seen an emerald-tinted critter in the news? While luminescence has becomemore established in biological research, the green fluorescent protein (GFP) behind the glow was first identified in Aequorea victoria.

With 100 light-producing organs lining their circumference, these jellyfish emit a gentle light when they’re stimulated. After tediously extracting thousands of specimens to identify the luminescent components back in the 1960s, a scientist named Osamu Shimomura isolated GFP and aequorin, another light-emitting protein, which led to a 2008 Nobel Prize in chemistry.

3. Deep-sea angler fish lure prey with a lit fleshy fishing pole.


Via giphy.com


Remember that terrifying fish that Nemo and Dory encountered in Finding Nemo? That’s an angler fish, and it actually looks like a nightmare in real life, too.

Only the ladies have that dangling luminous fishing rod, which is part of their dorsal spine (and where they get their name). And for a while, scientists weren’t sure why they only kept pulling females out of the ocean.

Here’s the fun sexy fact: Male anglers are much smaller than females, and after they attach to the female using their teeth, they fuse into her permanently over time as a parasite, leaving behind just a pair of gonads. Aww!

4. Ostracods eject light when they’re threatened.


Anna Syme / Creative Commons


The ostracod isn’t the big fish: It’s actually the petite crustacean firework the fish spits out! Ostracods send a bioluminescent protest off when threatened, which makes them rather unappetizing to eat. The two chemicals — luciferin and luciferase — glow when mixed, according to the BBC.

5. These Californian millipedes ooze cyanide.

Eden, Janine and Jim / Creative Commons

Paul Marek


These little guys, known as Motyxia, are blind. But that doesn’t stop them from going about their business: As the sky darkens, the rust-orange critters emerge to snuffle for food and a mate.

With a photoprotein similar to crystal jellies’ GFP, light from these millipedes is greenish-blue. But if disturbed, the light intensifies — and if that isn’t enough of a message, its pores start to leak toxic cyanide.

But unlike some luminescent critters, they may glow as a warning to bugger off.

Paul Marek

Paul Marek

Paul Marek


Motyxia are blind and mostly eat decomposing plant matter. So who are they wooing with their luster?

A group of scientists suspected that the glow might be aposematic, or warning coloration. In a Current Biology study, researcher Paul Marek and his team used a bronze cast (left) to create hundreds of fake clay millipedes, half of which were coated with a glow-in-the-dark paint. They also dampened the glow of real Motyxiawith paint and set the fake critters next to them.

The next day: “It was just – carnage,” Marek told UANews of the aftermath (middle and right). They found that non-luminescent millipedes, both real and fake, were more likely to be attacked than those that glowed.

6. Railroad worms look like train cars.

Paul Marek

Paul Marek


Speaking of creepy crawlers, railroad worms (specifically Stenophrixothrix fusca, shown here) have eight pairs of lamps that glow a sprightly yellow-green spread along the body, giving the image of a train’s windows as it choo-choos by.

7. These trippy mushrooms glow all the time.

OggiScienza / Cassius V. Stevani / Creative Commons / Via Flickr: oggiscienza

Cassius V. Stevani / Creative Commons / Via en.wikipedia.org


Aptly nicknamed “eternal light,” Mycena luxaeterna was found in the dark depths of Brazilian rain forests and is just one species among dozens of other radiant fungidetailed in a 2010 Mycologia study.

The ground was so illuminated, looking down was like looking at the sky, lead study author Dennis Desjardin told National Geographic. Desjardin suspects the glow attracts nighttime critters, which then help disperse the mushroom’s spores so that they can propagate.

8. And this mystical fungus is called “forest light.”

And this mystical fungus is called "forest light."
Brian Perry / University of Hawaii / Via eurekalert.org

Found in Malaysia on the bark of a tree, Mycena silvaelucens’ caps are itty-bitty, measuring at about 18 millimeters, or a little less than an inch.

9. Clusterwink snails pulse light as self-defense.

Clusterwink snails pulse light as self-defense.
Dimitri Deheyn / Via sciencedaily.com

If you’re a crab looking for a treat and encounter a flashing light, you’ll probably skedaddle away to somewhere less disconcerting. Clusterwinks use their shells todiffuse their vivid green light without ever leaving their protective layer, kind of like a tiny burglar alarm.

10. New Zealand glow worms are so magical that they’re an attraction.

11 Things In Nature You Didn't Know Could Glow In The Dark
Stoked for Saturday / Via youtube.com

Who knew fungus gnats could be so beautiful? Arachnocampa luminosa are so bright, they illuminate the Waitomo Caves. You can see the twinkling blanket yourself in this gorgeous time-lapse from Stoked for Saturday.

11. All of us humans spontaneously generate light!

11 Things In Nature You Didn't Know Could Glow In The Dark
Adult Swim / Via huffingtonpost.com

The human body literally glimmers, as a PLOS One study states. We can’t see it with our naked eye, but it’s true: We spontaneously and rhythmically emit ultra-weak photons as we metabolize energy, particularly in our cheeks.

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