CREATURES OF LIGHT: NATURE’S BIOLUMINESCENCE

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From replicas of flickering fireflies and glowing mushrooms to vampire squid and alien-like deep-sea fish, visitors will learn how and why nature’s fascinating light-emitting creatures are able to survive and thrive.

Twinkling isn’t just for the stars. From glowing mushrooms and larvae to vampire squid and fluorescent corals, Earth is full of fascinating organisms that radiate light. Bioluminescence – the ability to generate light through a chemical reaction – is one of nature’s most beautiful phenomena that a variety of creatures use to fight for survival. Through Feb. 21st, Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence will take visitors on a mesmerizing stroll through the world of living light at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.

“Bioluminescence is one of the most brilliant and confounding mysteries of the natural world,” said Colleen Walker, the Eugene McDermott Chief Executive Officer of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. “The Creatures of Light exhibition gives visitors a fascinating look at the unique ways creatures use light adaptions to survive in the world’s darkest ecosystems, from the deepest oceans to the blackest skies.”

Creatures of Light explores Earth’s extraordinary organisms that produce light, from the flickering fireflies found in backyards around the world to the glowing deep-sea fish and other fantastic creatures that illuminate the perpetually dark depths of the oceans. Guests will move through a series of re-created environments to explore extraordinary bioluminescent organisms.

The exhibition includes six immersive environments, from re-created North American forests filled with fireflies and glowing jack-o-lantern mushrooms, to the inside of a simulated mysterious New Zealand cave, where glowworms drop sticky “fishing lines”– bioluminescent gnat larvae – from the ceiling to trap prey. Guests also can experience the sparkling sea of Mosquito Bay on Puerto Rico’s Vieques Island, home to high concentrations of microscopic dinoflagellates that create a glowing halo around anything that moves through the water.

Visitors can explore the sunless, pitch-black deep ocean, which comprises the vast majority of the planet’s habitable space and discover how its creatures use light to travel, hunt, mate and even fight off predators. The ability to glow is much more common in the ocean, where up to 90 percent of animals at depths below 2,300 feet are bioluminescent and where scientists continue to discover bizarre new light-emitting species. Like the crystal jelly, whose glow led to a revolution in cell biology, these deep-ocean animals may hold important clues to essential questions.

Creatures of Light also points out that marine habitats are increasingly threatened by pollution, overfishing and global climate change. Many organisms are in danger of disappearing, some even before they have been discovered and studied. The exhibition includes a theater of underwater footage revealing the diversity of animals that marine biologists have captured on camera, including a jellyfish that lights up like a flashing pinwheel when threatened and a viperfish whose fangs are so long they don’t fit inside its head. Large-scale models of a diverse array of deep-sea creatures bring to life dramatic interactions between bioluminescent predators and prey. Examples include a female anglerfish with her own built-in fishing rod, and a modified fin spine topped with a lure that pulses with bacterial light and attracts prey to her gaping jaws; and a vampire squid that waves bioluminescent arm tips to confuse its attacker long enough for it to get away.

To enhance the enlightening experience, guests can decode a firefly’s language of light with a “talk to fireflies” hands-on interactive, explore the neon shades of fluorescent coral and fishes found in the Bloody Bay Wall, and even view live flashlight fish. Throughout the exhibition, iPads featuring videos, photographs and more will deepen the experience and teach guests about the diversity of bioluminescence.