Fireflies, Glow worms, and Bioluminescence

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Author: Judee Shipman

Life Science

Grade Level


Difficulty Level



Minimal (not including bioluminescent materials)

Safety Issues
  • Adult supervision recommended when interviewing people or searching the net.
  • Treat all animals with the greatest possible care and respect.
Project Time Frame

4-6 weeks


This project examines bioluminescence.

Project Goals
  • To illustrate the nature of bioluminescence.
  • To explore the biotechnological applications of light-emitting organisms.

Materials and Equipment

  • Computer with internet access
  • Color printer
  • Digital camera
  • Microscope (optional)
  • Magnifying glass
  • Bioluminescence fungus “kit” (available on various websites)
  • Bioluminescent samples from commercial aquariums (optional)
  • Bioluminescent samples from commercial nurseries (optional)
  • Typical office/craft supplies (such as paper, pens & poster-board)


Bioluminescence describes the enchantingly surreal nature of a living organism that produces light.  Many sea creatures possess this quality, but land animals such as fireflies are also known to exhibit bioluminescence.  This project examines creatures that glow, the causes and effects of bioluminescence, and the ways in which understanding it can benefit us.

Research Questions
  • What types of living things emit bioluminescent light?
  • What is the mechanism behind this characteristic?
  • Is bioluminescent light the same thing as sunlight?  Why or why not?
  • What are some of the benefits of bioluminescence, for us and for the creatures that possess this strange ability.
Terms and Concepts to Start Background Research
  • Bioluminescence
  • Biotechnology
  • Foxfire

Experimental Procedure

  1. Research related materials (see bibliography below)
  2. Collect and preserve actual samples, if possible
  3. Search online, print, and carefully label graphic examples of bioluminescent life.
  4. Explain the causes and effects of bioluminescence.
  5. Suggest new and improved practical applications for bioluminescence in art, science, architecture, or any other human discipline.
  6. Design an experiment to test your new idea.
  7. Write a detailed report.
  8. Include specimens in your science fair display, if possible.
  9. Display interesting photos taken throughout the course of the project.


The Bioluminescence Webpage Wiki topics:  “Bioluminescence, Fireflies, Glow Worm and Foxfire.


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