The fact that living creatures produce sounds is not particularly startling, nor is the fact that they emit smells. But light is another affair. It is just as incorporeal, but there is something uncanny about the idea of organisms creating light, as if occult powers were at play. Such beings are so rare in human experience, and their habitats so distant and fragile, that they can even seem exotically angelic — or, in some cases, demonic.
A thoroughly engrossing exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History that opens on Saturday — “Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence” — teaches us quite a bit about the phenomenon. Yet it still manages to preserve that otherworldly mystery, even cherishing it — treating it as if it were one of those ecologically vulnerable bioluminescent bays of glowing plankton in the Caribbean by whose shimmer visitors could once read in the middle of the night.
By the time you make your way from the opening gallery’s depiction of glowing mushrooms on the forest floor; through a survey of some of the 2,000 species of fireflies and the coded language of their signaling lanterns; past evocations of the bright strands of glowworms hanging from the walls in the Waitomo caves of New Zealand; and into the pitch blackness of the deep sea where the anglerfish swims, a luminous bulb of bacteria dangling above its head to lure prey into its gaping jaws, you will have a pretty good sense of this world and its strangeness.
You can read the full article via NY Times here.