Creatures of Light: Nature's Bioluminescence - The American Museum of Natural History
Hours: On view March 31 through January 6, 2013. Open 10am-5:45pm daily
Price: Free with museum admission: $19; $14.50 students and seniors; $10.50 children ages 2-12
Central Park West at 79th Street - 212-769-5100
Upper West Side, NY 10024
Description: This exhibition features the extraordinary organisms that produce light, from the flickering fireflies found in backyards across the Northeast to the alien deep-sea fishes that illuminate the perpetually dark depths of the oceans. Rare among plants and animals that live on land, the ability to glow--that is, generate light through a chemical reaction--is much more common in the ocean, where up to 90 percent of animals at depths below 700 meters are bioluminescent, including many unknown to science. Like the crystal jelly whose glow led to a revolution in cell biology, these animals may hold important clues to essential questions, but scientists are in a race against time as habitats are increasingly threatened by pollution, overfishing, and global climate change. Visitors will move through a series of re-created environments, from the familiar to the extreme, to explore the diversity of organisms that glow and how they do it; discover the variety of ways in which light is used to attract a mate, lure unsuspecting prey, or defend against a predator; and learn how, where, and why scientists study this amazing natural phenomenon. Throughout the exhibition, iPads featuring videos, infographics, photo albums, and animations will provide opportunities to hear directly from researchers about their work. Starting in a local meadow on "a summer's night," where fireflies use unique patterns of flashing light to communicate with potential mates, visitors will descend into "a mysterious cave" in New Zealand to watch a fantastic spectacle of luminescent "fishing lines" strung by larval gnats (glowworms) to trap prey. A unique interactive environment in "a sparkling sea" will introduce the brilliant light displays of Mosquito Bay on Puerto Rico's Vieques Island, where high concentrations of microscopic dinoflagellates, a type of plankton, create a halo around anything that moves through the water. Visitors will activate the bioluminescent bay as they move through this section. "The night dive" will feature a large-scale, day-and-night interactive image of the Cayman Islands' Bloody Bay Wall, a remarkable coral wall that is home to both bioluminescent and biofluorescent animals, which glow only after exposure to light. In "altered light," visitors will encounter the jellyfish Aequorea victoria, which combines bioluminescence with biofluorescence (in which an organism's molecules absorb blue light, then radiate it at a lower energy, longer wavelength) to emit flashes of green light. The protein found in its light organs, known as the green fluorescent protein (GFP), has become a critical tool in cellular and developmental biology, used for mapping neural circuits, observing cancer cells, and much more. Borrowed Light will feature live flashlight fishes, which harbor bioluminescent bacteria in an organ under their eyes, and highlight symbiotic relationships. "The deep ocean" will take visitors into the perpetually dark deep ocean, which comprises the vast majority of the planet's habitable space. A deep sea theater will reveal the diversity of animals that marine biologists have captured on camera, including female anglerfishes waving bioluminescent "lures" to attract prey and mates, and jellyfishes that light up like a flashing pinwheel when threatened.