Bioluminescence: Gorgeous Glowing Sea Creatures

One of my favorite aspects of writing is imagining incredible experiences, like watching a glittering swarm of bioluminescent krill or glowing jellyfish pulsing through the sea. These amazing creatures featured in The Spark Mage: A Sea Sprite Adventure are actually real. Maybe if we went for a swim tonight, we’d find some. But we’d need to dive deep.

Bioluminescent Jellyfish

This orange beauty is a deep-sea scyphozoan jellyfish, Atolla wyvillei. Trying saying that three times! I love the fiery glow at its center and along the streaming tentacles. These type of sea jellies (they’re not really fish–no bones and no gills) are often referred to as the “true jellyfish.” The class name scyphozoa comes from a Greek word meaning cup, referring to their rounded cup-like bell. But don’t try drinking from one–they sting!

This pic shows a jellyfish’s glow with the lights off. Imagine how gorgeous a swarm of these jellies would look. A lot like fireworks.

Glowing Shrimp Gunk

This deep-sea pandalid shrimp Heterocarpus ensifer has glowing puke. Much prettier than what you might find at your local hospital–or middle school! The shining blue cloud is actually a mix of chemicals that light up to confuse and distract predators. What a great way to stay alive.

Bioluminescent Deep Sea Fish

This scary dude looks an awful lot like the fish that tried to eat Marlin and Dory. It’s a barbeled dragonfish, which sounds monstrous enough to me, even without the glow that lures innocent fish to their deaths. Supposedly it uses its glow like a flashlight, but with all those pointy teeth, I’m not about to trust it. Would you?


This is actually an anglerfish luring Marlin and Dory with its pretty, pretty light in Finding Nemoalbeit a somewhat exaggerated drawing. But hey, that just adds to the drama.

Stunning Squid

Many squid glow in the dark. Their lower (ventral) surfaces light up to disguise them from predators. The blue lights help them blend with the water above them. Some squid even change colors. My favorite is the firefly squid, which has so many light organs it looks like glitter.

firefly-squid-night-se48 Dante Fenolio

photo courtesy of Dante Fenolio


Bioluminescent Krill

Photo credit: Uwe Kils CC

Photo credit: Uwe Kils CC

Krill are small crustaceans that are the favorite prey of baleen whales. I’ve held them in my hand before at Jenks Aquarium. I have to say they were pretty creepy. And crawly. In the ocean, they often travel in dense groups called clouds or swarms. As pretty as they’d look all glowing together, I’d hate to get stuck in the middle.

Love to hear your thoughts about these beauties. Please comment below.

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Featured photo by John Donges