From fireflies and glow worms to fungi and fish, Attenborough’s Life That Glows from the BBC is giving us a stunning look at the bioluminescent creatures that inhabit all corners of our planet. And in a move that warms the cockles of our nature-loving hearts, the producers of the show have opted to share some highlights from the film in GIF form, which means even if you don't have access to the programme, you can still enjoy some of its beautiful imagery.

We've rounded up some of our favorites, so sit back, relax and enjoy. 

Jellies, jellies and more jellies

While we typically associate light in the deep sea with strategies for attracting prey, it's thought that some organisms, like this stunning comb jelly (Beroe spp) use their flashes to ward of would-be predators. 

Inspecto patronum

It might look like this cardinal fish is pulling some Harry Potter-style moves, but that bright glow you see is actually caused by a tiny crustacean known as an ostrocod. As the fish gobbles up its miniature meal, the ostrocod emits a light so bright it could attract unwanted attention from predators. To protect itself, the cardinal fish opts to spit out its catch.

Flickering flagellates 

No bioluminescent organisms have risen to internet fame quite like dinoflagellates, marine protists that spend their days drifting through the ocean. These single-celled organisms range in size from about 30 micrometres to one millimetre, and are the culprits behind those pesky "red tides". 

When handled, the cell is triggered to flash, and any neighbouring cells respond in turn. This communal "burglar alarm" disrupts the feeding behaviour of predators like these grazing birds:

But any creatures who cross the dinoflagellates' path will also unintentionally sound the alarm:

Glow worms

Why do earthworms glow beneath the dirt? It's thought that the blue hue helps these slimy invertebrates find each other – but like many cases of bioluminescence, we still don't know for certain. 

Built-in headlights

Now here's one you don't see every day (no pun intended). Just below the eyes of the flashlight fish lies a special organ that acts as something of a bacteria farm. This private colony possesses the ability to glow, and the fish make good use of their tenants' skills. In return, the bacteria get free room and board!

Magic mushrooms 

Faerie fire! Once upon a long time ago, the eerie glow given off by some species of fungi in the depths of a dark forest was thought to be magic. Today, science trumps the supernatural, but we still have a lot to learn about why some fungi flicker. While most mushrooms don’t possess this ability, there are around 71 known species that can glow in the dark.  

Shiny seafood

This strange case of seafood sci-fi is actually caused by marine bacteria that are capable of emitting light – and reports from consumers spooked by their glowing late-night snack are not uncommon. The micro-organisms can grow on seafood even at chilly (and freezing) temperatures, and tend to be found especially on products where salt has been added during processing. So next time you're making a shrimp salad, turn off the kitchen light and you might see the blue-green glow – and don't worry, shimmering seafood is safe to eat.


Top header image: Bernard DUPONT/Flickr