Bioluminescence of Fireflies


  • In a rare phenomenon, fireflies illuminate forests in Anamalai Tiger Reserve.

About Bioluminescence of Fireflies

  • Fireflies produce a chemical reaction inside their bodies that allows them to light up. This type of light production is called bioluminescence.
  • When oxygen combines with calcium, adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and the chemical luciferin in the presence of luciferase, a bioluminescent enzyme, light is produced.

    Bioluminescence of Fireflies
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  • Unlike a light bulb, which produces a lot of heat in addition to light, a firefly’s light is “cold light” without a lot of energy being lost as heat.
  • This is necessary because if a firefly’s light-producing organ got as hot as a light bulb, the firefly would not survive the experience.
  • A firefly controls the beginning and end of the chemical reaction, and thus the start and stop of its light emission, by adding oxygen to the other chemicals needed to produce light.
  • When oxygen is available, the light organ lights up, and when it is not available, the light goes out.
  • Insects do not have lungs, but instead transport oxygen from outside the body to the interior cells within through a complex series of successively smaller tubes known as tracheoles.
  • Some firefly species manage such a high flash rate, as the nitric oxide gas plays a critical role in firefly flash control.
  • In short, when the firefly light is “off” no nitric oxide is being produced.
  • The presence of nitric oxide, which binds to the mitochondria, allows oxygen to flow into the light organ where it combines with the other chemicals needed to produce the bioluminescent reaction.
  • Because nitric oxide breaks down very quickly, as soon as the chemical is no longer being produced, the oxygen molecules are again trapped by the mitochondria and are not available for the production of light.


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