Bioluminescence is light created by living organisms and it can create the most fantastic displays - Sir David Attenborough

Most bioluminescent organisms are found in the ocean; around 80% of all bioluminescent species are marine (Widder 2010). The vast array of species which display this trait are found at the surface of the oceans but mainly, in the dark depths. These species range from bacteria and shrimps to fish and squid.

The area of focus for this blog is bioluminescence in the deep sea where there is little or no sunlight available. The bioluminescence is just one of many adaptations the creatures have to thrive in this strange alien world.

Bioluminescent polych

Tomopteris, a bioluminescent Polychaete – IMAX documentary, Into the Deep – Figure 1.


Aspects which will be explored in this topic are:

-What exactly is bioluminescence? – Different from fluorescence and iridescence.

-Who uses this feature? – There are many different organisms who possess bioluminescence and in different ways.

-How is it created? – From a simple reaction to complex fluorescent proteins each can produce different colours

-Why do these organisms use it? – Some use it as a lure for prey, to escape predation or to attract a mate.


Much of the literature and research on bioluminescence has been carried out by Dr. Edith Widder who was also one of the first to film the diverse world. The must-watch 12 minute video below shows some of her eye-opening footage from various dives and gives an overall insight of the subject.

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