Creatures of Light

Creatures of Light – Now open through July 9, 2017

Explore the extraordinary organisms that produce light, from the flickering fireflies found in backyards around the world to the alien-like deep-sea fishes and other fantastic creatures that illuminate the perpetually dark depths of the oceans. Admission is FREE with general admission! FREE to Museum members!

In Creatures of Light, visitors move through a series of luminous environments, from the familiar mushrooms on land to the extreme in the deepest parts of the ocean, to explore the diversity of organisms that glow and how they do it. Visitors will discover the ways in which light is used to attract a mate, lure unsuspecting prey and defend against a predator, and to learn how, where and why scientists study this amazing natural phenomenon.

Throughout the gallery, visitors can deepen their experience by interacting with iPads, which will offer engaging videos, animations, photographs and additional in-depth content about bioluminescence and related phenomena designed exclusively for this exhibition. Additional interactive exhibits and videos will offer visitors of all ages engaging opportunities to meet scientists whose work contributes to the exploration of bioluminescence. A symphonic soundtrack, created for Creatures of Light by composer Tom Phillips, evokes the magical experience of bioluminescence.

Rare among organisms that live on land, the ability to glow—that is, generate light through a chemical reaction—is much more common in the ocean, where up to 90% of animals at depths below 700 meters are bioluminescent and where scientists continue to discover bizarre new bioluminescent 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. Scientists are in a race against time as marine habitats are increasingly threatened by pollution, overfishing, and global climate change.



Exhibition Sections

  • Visitors are welcomed to the woodlands of North America, where a variety of bioluminescent mushrooms grow on decaying wood.
  • A Summer’s Night demonstrates how fireflies use unique patterns of flashing light to communicate and attract mates—or find dinner.  An interactive exhibit allows visitors to communicate with electronic fireflies by flashing lights to match the patterns of various species.
  • A Mysterious Cave invites visitors to peer into New Zealand’s Waitomo cave system to watch a fantastic spectacle of sticky “fishing lines” strung by bioluminescent larval gnats, known as glowworms, to trap prey.
  • A Sparkling Sea features an interactive environment that introduces visitors to the brilliant light displays of Mosquito Bay on Vieques Island in Puerto Rico, where high concentrations of microscopic dinoflagellates create a glowing halo around anything that moves through the water. Visitors activate the bioluminescent bay as they move through this section.
  • Night Dive features a large-scale, day-and-night interactive image of the Cayman Islands’ Bloody Bay Wall, a species-rich coral wall that is home to many bioluminescent and biofluorescent animals. The latter only glow brilliant green, red, and orange when exposed to certain wavelengths of light.
  • In Altered Light, visitors encounter the crystal jelly, Aequorea victoria, which combines blue bioluminescence with biofluorescence to emit flashes of light. A protein found in its light organs, known as the green fluorescent protein (GFP), has become a critical tool in cellular and developmental biology, where it is used for mapping neural circuits, observing cancer cells, and much more. Large-scale models of this jellyfish are on display, and visitors can also examine a scorpion, minerals, and even objects that fluoresce when exposed to ultraviolet light.
  • The Deep Ocean takes visitors into the perpetually dark deep ocean, which comprises the vast majority of the planet’s habitable space. A Deep Sea Theater reveals 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.

Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence is organized by the American Museum of Natural History, New York (, in collaboration with the Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Canada, and The Field Museum, Chicago.

This exhibit is brought to you by the citizens of Kent County and the voter approved 2016 millage.


Support for Creatures of Light is provided by: 



Media Sponsors


Lacks Enterprises, Inc.
Williams Kitchen & Bath


Adventure Credit Union
Chris & Kim Branoff
Jim & Barb Haveman
Kennari Consulting