Bioluminescent life is really something special. I still remember my first “date” with fireflies. It was like, “wow, a flying light”. And it still is 😊 Today is a special day because USPS issued stamps dedicated to bioluminescent life.
Bioluminescence is the ability of a living organism or a laboratory biochemical system derived from an organism to produce and emit light. That light can’t be generated out of thin air so there is some kind of process behind it. That process is called chemiluminescence and, as we could conclude from its’ name, a chemical process. Without diving more into chemistry, the reaction involves an enzyme and a substrate
(e.g. and the enzyme component – a luciferase and a light-emitting pigment – the luciferin). This process is extremely efficient with almost 100 percent chemical energy being converted into radiant energy.
This ability can be found in some terrestrial animals, fish, invertebrates, fungi, bacteria and some other microorganisms. Most organisms with this ability live in the sea (especially deep-sea) and of those that are not in the water, most famous are fireflies and glow-worms (common name for groups of insects larvas and adult laviform females that glow light).
Look who’s shining!
Let’s meet some bioluminescent organisms. On stamps. Today, the USPS issued 10 stamps devoted to these beautiful shiny creatures. Each of these stamps is the forever stamp (first class stamps, the current value is 50¢).
USA – Bioluminescent life
Denomination – forever (first class)
deep-ocean octopus, midwater jellyfish,
deep-sea comb jelly, mushroom,
firefly, bamboo coral,
marine worm, crown jellyfish,
a second type of marine worm, sea pen
Copyright© 2018 USPS. All Rights Reserved.
And what is this light used for?
These organisms emit light for attraction, camouflage by counterillumination, communication, defense, finding food, illumination, mimicry, and warning.
Taiwan (Republic of China) – Fireflies
Denomination: 5$ (New Taiwan dollar)
This is a what Britannica says about how fireflies use their “special skill”:
“In Photinus pyralis, a common North American firefly, the male flashes spontaneously while in flight, emitting on average a 0.3-second flash every 5.5 seconds if the temperature is 25 °C (77 °F). The females watch from the ground and wait for a male to flash. Upon seeing a flash, a female flashes a response after an interval of about 2 seconds. It is that response that attracts the male. The female is unable to identify a male by his flashing. Thus, it is the male that recognizes the correct signal—i.e., interval between flashes—and seeks out the female. The interval between the male’s signal and the female’s response, therefore, is crucial. Similar specific recognition codes are used by many species of fireflies. Other fireflies possibly rely on color differences in the light signals between sexes.”
Maybe one of the most famous usages of bioluminescent organisms was in the coal mines in the UK and Europe. It’s not so smart to walk around the coal mine with the open fire. The bioluminescent solution was using dried fish skins and bottles containing fireflies as the light source.
In modern day these organisms are the target of research. One obvious field of research is to grow light-emitting organisms by combining genes from bioluminescent organisms with other organisms (e.g. genes that are responsible that fireflies glow). The goal is to use this ability in order to generate enough light and reduce the need for other energy sources.
There are also a number of researchers related to medicine, even in the cancer treatments.
They are cool, they glow in the dark. What more you could expect? Ok, adding them to your collection (of stamps) is one obvious choice. See you soon with more nature-related stories.
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