Visitors explored 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.
In Creatures of Light, visitors moved 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 discovered the ways in which light is used to attract a mate, lure unsuspecting prey and defend against a predator, and learned how, where and why scientists study this amazing natural phenomenon.
Throughout the gallery, visitors deepened their experience by interacting with iPads, which offered engaging videos, animations, photographs and additional in-depth content about bioluminescence and related phenomena designed exclusively for this exhibition. Additional interactive exhibits and videos offered 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, evoked 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.
- Visitors were welcomed to the woodlands of North America, where a variety of bioluminescent mushrooms grow on decaying wood.
- A Summer’s Night demonstrated how fireflies use unique patterns of flashing light to communicate and attract mates—or find dinner. An interactive exhibit allowed visitors to communicate with electronic fireflies by flashing lights to match the patterns of various species.
- A Mysterious Cave invited 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 featured an interactive environment that introduced 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 activated the bioluminescent bay as they moved through this section.
- Night Dive featured 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 encountered 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 were on display, and visitors also examined a scorpion, minerals, and even objects that fluoresce when exposed to ultraviolet light.
- The Deep Ocean took visitors into the perpetually dark deep ocean, which comprises the vast majority of the planet’s habitable space. A Deep Sea Theater revealed 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 brought 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 (www.amnh.org), in collaboration with the Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Canada, and The Field Museum, Chicago.
This exhibit was brought to you by the citizens of Kent County and the voter approved 2016 millage.
Creatures of Light ran from March 10 – July 9.
Support for Creatures of Light was provided by: