Fireflies and bioluminescence: The apotheosis of nature

Before Thomas Edison unwittingly destroyed the boundaries of nature and disrupted the essential mechanics of evolution, light was a function of nature usually reserved to the depths of space; distant orbs littered across the cosmos sustain life during the day and save the night from depths of solitude.

Any form of natural light on Earth is both revered and feared due to innate instincts deeply ingrained in the human psyche. The fury of a raging fire or the limitless power of lightning storms has inspired the feeling of a hollow awe to emanate from the pit of Man’s stomach for thousands of years. Therefore, when light is observed being emitted from a living plant or animal, humans treat this bioluminescence as the apotheosis of nature.

Bioluminescent plants, animals and fungi are observed throughout the spectrum of nature, but the form and function mainly depend on whether the animal is observed in an aquamarine or terrestrial environment. The ocean contains the majority of organisms capable of producing light: Algae, jellyfish, starfish, crustaceans and other demonic dwellers of the deep.

The inability for light to penetrate the ocean depths and relative constant nature of the Earth’s primordial proving grounds have created a perfect habitat for the consistent progression of effulgent organisms. The land may contain less luminous species, yet their capabilities are no less mesmerizing. Foxfire, glow worms and click beetles are all stunning examples, however Nature’s most opulent and well known foray into the industry of psychedelics can be found every summer evening night when a hypnotic menagerie of fireflies emerge from a seemingly ethereal realm.

Understanding the mechanics of the simple firefly’s glow involves a complex knowledge of physics, chemistry, and biology. The main difference between the oceanic and geotic creatures is the wave length of light emitted. Oceanic organisms’ bioluminescence is normally seen as blue or green, whereas geotic species produce emissions towards the yellow, orange, and red end of the light spectrum.

This is due to environmental factors; blue lights can be seen endlessly in saltwater, likewise yellow lights are emitted in attempts to maximize differentiation between any background features or other ambient light sources. Fireflies have been known to capitalize on the strategic employment of physics; depending on whether a firefly is born early or late in the season, it will emit different colors of light in order to effectively contrast to its environment.

The chemistry involved in firefly bioluminescence baffled scientists for years. According to Barua et al. in the Journal of Biosciences in 2009, An enzyme, luciferase, combines luciferin, ATP and oxygen to create an electronically excited oxyluciferin molecule. Visible light is emitted as the luciferin returns to its normal ground state. The biological function of firefly’s light is multifaceted, it serves: Communication, reproductive and aposematic (defensive) purposes. The firefly is a marvel unparalleled; the intricacy, effectiveness and ingenuity of a miniscule insect continues to shame the progenitor of the world’s largest corporation.

The crepuscular influx of fireflies serves as a reminder of the incomprehensible calculations of Nature. Each evening is filled with dizzying equations silently exploring the liminal spaces, transcending fields of science and spirituality, melding reality and illusion. The firefly guides the darkened path, aimlessly illuminating the depths of the unknown with a comforting glow, worthy of introspective reflection.