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Bioluminescence: Bioluminescent fungi

Updated on August 23, 2015

What is bioluminescence?

It is a process by which a living organism emits light biochemically. The types of organism that are bioluminescent include:

  • Open sea creatures like jellyfish, crustaceans, etc.
  • Microorganisms like fungi, bacteria. Dinoflagellates, which are flagellated eukaryotic microorganisms, are the most frequently found bioluminescent organisms. They are found in the surface layers of the sea.
  • Terrestrial invertebrates such as insect larvae, annelids and arachnids. Non-marine bioluminescence is exhibited in less wide distributions. Such bioluminescent organisms would include fireflies and glow worms.

Here are some bioluminescent creatures in the deep sea

Some of the purposes of bioluminescence in nature:

  • Camouflage as a way to blend in with the surrounding environment: This is prevalent in several squid species. Here the animal matches the overhead environmental light.
  • Attraction: It involves attracting prey, attraction of mates.
  • Defence: Several squids and small crustaceans expel a cloud of luminescent material which can either distract or repel a predator, while they can escape to safety. Dinoflagellates may also use bioluminescence for defence.
  • Warning: Many creatures can use bioluminescence to warn potential predators that they are unpalatable. While further research is required for establishing the warning function of bioluminescence, some creatures that are believed to be using such mechanisms include firefly larvae, millipedes and marine organisms such as scale worms, jellyfish, and brittle stars.

How does bioluminescence work?

This phenomenon, in most creatures, is caused by an oxygen dependent chemical reaction involving the class of small molecule substrates named luciferins. Substrates are the medium in which chemical reactions take place.

Bioluminescence requires the following elements:

  • Luciferase: The enzymes
  • Photons (Light)
  • Adenosine triphosphate - ATP (Energy)
  • Luciferin: The substrates
  • Oxygen

There are many types of luciferins depending on the bioluminescent organism. The luciferin that causes bioluminescence in a firefly will be different from the luciferin that causes bioluminescence in bacteria.

Generally luciferins are oxidised in the presence of enzymes named as luciferases to produce oxyluciferin with release of light energy. Also during the luciferin-luciferase reaction, unstable chemical intermediates are produced. Intermediates are molecular entities that are produced from the reactants and can further react chemically.

And when these intermediates decompose, there is a release of excess energy in the form of light, causing the tissues in which this reaction occurs to glow.

The bioluminescent reaction could be simplified as:

ATP + Luciferin + Luciferase + oxidiser = photons (light)

Bioluminescent fungi

Very little is known about bioluminescent fungi. The luciferins and luciferases responsible for bioluminescence in fungi mostly remain unidentified.

According to recent research, bioluminescent fungi mostly emit a faint greenish light. This light is hard to identify unless they are observed in very dark conditions.

Comparatively 70 species of fungi are found to be bioluminescent. Most of them are basidiomycetes with white spores. Of these two-thirds belong to the genus Mycena. Other bioluminescent species of fungi would be included in the genera Armillaria, Omphalotus, Gerronema, Panellus and Dictyopanus. Luminescence is categorised on the basis of intensity level, source location between each species. Generally luminescence will occur in the mycelium, basidiome or any other related part.

Mycena chlorophos

The mushrooms can emit a pale green light.

Caps and gills of the mushroom are bioluminescent. The mycelia and stems may or may not have slight luminescence.

Mycena chlorophos


Mycena luxaeterna

This fungus can emit a constant yellow-green bioluminescence but the caps do not glow.

Mycena luxaeterna


Omphalotus nidiformis

The gills are luminescent which can emit a greenish light. The intensity of the luminescence is variable and it has been not recognised whether the mycelium is also luminescent.

On investigation it was noted that there appeared to be two colour forms of this fungi, a cream coloured form with a cap that was darkly shaded with brown and grey and a completely brown form with pale edges and a dark centred cap. The cream coloured form was found to be strongly luminescent while the brown coloured form was faintly luminescent.

Omphalotus nidiformis


Panellus stipticus

Luminescence is restricted to the edges of the gills, the junction of the gills with the stem and the cap. The luminescence in the mycelia has also been studied and it is observable.

Panellus stipticus


Foxfire: Also called “fairy fire”, is the term for bioluminescence caused by some species of fungi.

M. chlorophos
M. luxaeterna
O. nidiformis
P. stipticus

Which bioluminescent fungi do you like?

See results

© 2015 Arun Dev


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    • adevwriting profile imageAUTHOR

      Arun Dev 

      3 years ago from United Countries of the World

      Bioluminescence is really wonderful! Thanks for commenting, Greensleeves Hubs

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 

      3 years ago from Essex, UK

      Very interesting adeywriting - there are some sights in nature known to science but just waiting to be discovered by the general public, which are so beautiful. And although the page is largely about bioluminescent fungi, the opening video is stunning.

    • adevwriting profile imageAUTHOR

      Arun Dev 

      3 years ago from United Countries of the World

      Thanks billybuc

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very interesting article and the pictures are wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

    • colorfulone profile image

      Susie Lehto 

      3 years ago from Minnesota

      Bioluminescent fungi is an interesting topic. Thanks for sharing this information and photos.

    • adevwriting profile imageAUTHOR

      Arun Dev 

      3 years ago from United Countries of the World

      Thanks for your kind comment, AliciaC

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for this interesting look at bioluminescent fungi and for sharing the beautiful photos.


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