The Quiet Light Show

Firefly Lights

Firefly Lights at Night

The Fourth of July in the United States is noted for the thunderous displays of fireworks that light up the nighttime sky. In Eastern North America, a quieter light show is on display, not only on July 4, but every night during summer. The firefly light show is much quieter. It does not depend on heat and noisy, dangerous explosions to produce light. The fireflies use luciferin, a chemical that can be activated to release most of the activation energy as photons.

In the firefly light organ, luciferin is activated by reaction with ATP to produce adenyl-luciferin. An enzyme, luciferase, catalyzes the reaction of adenyl-luciferin with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide and oxyluciferin. The unstable oxyluciferin decays spontaneously, releasing a photon. The vast majority of energy is in the form of the photon. Thus, fireflies can emit their light without generating heat.

The noisy fireworks and resulting disturbed slumber get old quickly. The quiet displays of fireflies do not.

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in Biomaterials, by jjneal. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Quiet Light Show

  1. Pingback: The Quiet Light Show | Entomo Planet

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