An Overview of Bioluminescent Fungi

Bioluminescent fungi also named “foxfire” fungi due to the glowing qualities that occur in the dark or from certain light sources due to the chemical reaction occurring within the fungus.  This fungus has a long history in the United states mentioned in novels such as Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Fin which ‘foxfire was mentioned as a light source to see in the tunnel’ and Lincoln Diamant’s recent book “Chaining the Hudson”  who mentions Benjamin Franklin suggested it be used as a light source in the early submarine “Turtle.”  However, philosophers such as Aristotle mentioned the foxfire as far back in his time.  This source of glowing light that is emitted from the fungi is due to the growing and dying process of the fungi.  Some other recorded nicknames include calling the fungus “faerie fire” or “will-o’-the-wisp” by some.

Scientific Explanation: What causes This Fungi to Glow?

A chemical reaction occurs between the fungi pigment luciferase within and oxygen acting as a catalyzing agent helping to promote a glowing effect. ‘During the luciferan- luciferase reaction, unstable chemical intermediates are produced. As these intermediates decompose excess energy is released as light emission, causing the tissues in which this reaction occurs to glow or luminesce’ (Perry, 2007).  This reaction still mystifies some and yet further explanation on “why” this process causes a glow is still a somewhat unclear phenomenon.  The main conditions in which this fungi grows well is through presence of water, oxygen, Temperature/ light and pH levels (Coder, 1999).   There are many species of bioluminescent fungi identified that currently exist around the world and only grown in areas which provide the desired living conditions. 

Societal Significance, Use and Detection of Bioluminescent Fungi

Studying the bioluminescence of these bacteria can help determine whether it is growing with a brighter glow or growing dimmer with fewer glows on food.  Methods of detecting the glowing qualities of these bacteria from light sources are through using ‘simple illuminometers or more sophisticated low light imaging equipment’ (Griffiths, 2000).  This is similar to the as identifying the glowing properties of Escher coli (E-coli) commonly tested for in water and ice samples.  In the food facility; bioluminescent bacteria detection such as E-coli help prevent foodborne outbreaks.  The many species of foxfire fungus are being recorded and have a history as being used as a light source or to appreciate as a mystifying light.  They offer some natural benefits to the forested environment in which they live and decompose.  Animals may also use light as a source of attraction to each other within these areas.  Bioluminescent fungi can potentially be used in future studies and research in fields such as medicine, ecology and other science fields such as with developing test methods and curing ailments.


Coder, K.D. (Aug 1999). Foxfire: Bioluminescence in the Forest, University of Georgia Extension Publication, 99-021.  Retrieved on July 20, 2011 from

Diamant, L. (2004). Chaining the Hudson: The Fight for the River in the American Revolution. New York: Fordham University Press. 491786080

Griffiths, M. W. (May-Jun 2000). How novel methods can help discover more information about foodborne pathogens, The Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases, Pulsus Group, 11 (3): 142-153, Retrieved on July 20th, 2011 from

Perry, B. (Mar 2007).  Bioluminescent Fungi, MykoWeb, Mushrooms, Fungi and Mycology, Mycena News, Retrieved on July 20, 2011 from