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It’s all in the name. Bioluminescence originates from the Greek word bios for living, and the Latin word lumen for light. It takes a quick lesson in chemical reactions to shed a little light on how this process works. When organisms convert chemical energy into light energy, a chemical reaction occurs that luminesces, or produces a cold, rather than thermal, light.

Bioluminescence can serve four functions—it can serve as camouflage, attract prey, repulse predators, and communicate with other members of the same species.

But while this ability is certainly spectacular, it is not exactly rare—90 percent of ocean animals are bioluminescent.

News from the Sea

Fish do it. Fungi do it. Fireflies do it. And now, so does a new species of jellyfish. It’s called bioluminescence, and for one species in the genus Erenna, red is the new black. Thousands of feet below the surface of the sea, an as-yet-unnamed jellyfish glides through impossibly dark waters. Scientists believe the jellyfish is lighting up, emitting a fluorescent red glow, to attract fish and lead them unknowingly into the jellyfish’s waiting tentacles. For the jellyfish this behavior is more than just a lightshow, it’s survival. Steven H. D. Haddock of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing and a team of scientists have discovered this luminous predator off the coast of California.