Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence, a major new exhibition at The Field Museum March 7-Sept. 8, 2013, explores the extraordinary organisms that produce light, from the flickering fireflies found in backyards to the alien-like fishes and other fantastic creatures that illuminate the depths of the oceans.
In Creatures of Light, visitors move through a series of re-created environments, from the familiar to the extreme, to discover the variety of ways in which organisms use light to attract a mate, lure unsuspecting prey, or defend against a predator.
The exhibition’s major sponsor is Discover.
Creatures of Light, a companion iPad app, is also available for free download in the iTunes store.
Highlights of Creatures of Light:
- The introduction welcomes visitors to the woodlands of North America, where a variety of bioluminescent mushrooms grow on decaying wood.
- A Summer’s Night evokes a meadow in eastern North America and demonstrates how fireflies use unique patterns of flashing light to communicate and attract mates – or find dinner. Large-scale models show intricate details of female and male fireflies. Visitors can 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 glowworms (bioluminescent larval gnats) to trap prey. Other glowing terrestrial animals explored in this section include a bioluminescent millipede species and the railroad worm, a larval beetle that resembles a passenger train seen at night, with red “headlights” and yellowish-green “windows” on its sides.
- 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. Here, visitors will also discover a large-scale model of the animal which illustrates its armored anatomy and also highlights scintillons, the tiny particles that emit this creature’s light.
- 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 biofluorescent animals that glow brilliant green, red, and orange only when exposed to certain wavelengths of light.
- In Altered Light, visitors encounter the crystal jellyfish that combines blue bioluminescence with biofluorescence to emit flashes of green light. A protein found in its light organs 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.
- Borrowed Light examines bioluminescent organisms with symbiotic associations, including flashlight fishes, which harbor bioluminescent bacteria in an organ under their eyes and use the bacterial light to communicate, avoid predation, and attract prey. This section features live flashlight fish and a large-scale model of a male golden ponyfish that has a ring of tissue around its throat packed with bioluminescent bacteria.
- The Deep Ocean takes visitors into the perpetually dark deep ocean. Although relatively rare among organisms that live on land, the ability to generate light through a chemical reaction 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 bioluminescent species. Due to pollution, overfishing, and global climate change, many organisms are in danger of disappearing, some even before they have been discovered and studied.
- A Deep Sea Theater shows 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 such as a female anglerfish with her own built-in fishing rod – a modified fin spine topped with a lure that pulses with bacterial light to attract prey, and a vampire squid that waves bioluminescent arm tips to confuse its attacker long enough for it to get away.
Throughout Creatures of Light, visitors can deepen their experience by interacting with iPads, which offer engaging videos, animations, photographs and additional in-depth content about bioluminescence and related phenomena designed exclusively for this exhibition. Additional interactive components and videos offer visitors 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. As visitors move through the exhibition, the music in each section sets a distinctive mood to create a fully immersive experience.
Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence is organized by the American Museum of Natural History, in collaboration with the Canadian Museum of Nature, and The Field Museum.