Bioluminescence Is Cool

Pretty, isn't it?

A Science Fiction trope: when writers think up alien lifeforms, there are several ways to make them cool, but nothing beats making them glow.

Truth in Television, as many deep sea species have bioluminescence, including many octopuses.

See also Power Glows, Fantastic Light Source and Alluring Anglerfish. Compare Tron Lines. Contrast Sickly Green Glow.


Anime and Manga
  • Suisei no Gargantia gave us the whale-squids, although it is a bit uncertain if they actually are bioluminescent or merely fluorescent-when-lighted a la GFP below.

  • Avatar: Most lifeforms on Pandora, including much of the vegetation, have bioluminescent cells. The Na'vi have them as markings that form lines, which according to the background serve as a means of identification. Most plants, along with small animals, have a lot of bioluminescence, with larger animals and trees having less, although everything seems to have at least some.
  • The aliens from The Abyss.
  • Justified in Pitch Black due to the Bizarre Alien Biology of the light-sensitive monsters that eat everything else on the planet during every eclipse. The glow-worms end up saving the lives of the survivors.
  • The aliens from Monsters.
  • The Moorwens from Outlander.
  • Up to Eleven in the movie of Life of Pi. Apparently every body of water glows piercing blue at night.
    • Justified as bioluminescent plankton and pelagic worms really are very common on the tropical Pacific.
  • The aliens in Attack the Block have neon turquoise teeth.
  • The Kaiju from Pacific Rim have glowing blood, alongside their glowing mouths, eyes, and markings.
  • In Godzilla, the Big G's dorsal plates traditionally light up before or as he uses his Atomic Breath.
    • The MUTOs from Godzilla (2014) are black with glowing red markings. Godzilla's dorsal plates begin to light up blue, just like they do in the TOHO films. The new film adds in the plates glowing blue from the tail up, a la Godzilla: The Series.
  • Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, whose body glows a continuous blue.
  • In How to Train Your Dragon 2, it is revealed that the dorsal area on the backs of Night Furies can light up in streaks of blue, possibly in a Shout-Out to Godzilla.
  • In Guardians of the Galaxy, when the team explores a dark chamber to retrieve the Orb from Ronan, Groot expels a cloud of bioluminescent seeds to light the darkness.

  • In Kraken, the Krakenists believe that after they die, they become bioluminescent cells on the body of the squid god.
  • In "Dark Life" by Kat Falls people who live on the bottom of the ocean for extended periods of time often develop a bioluminescent shine from eating certain species of fish.
  • Wayne Barlowe seems to like this trope, given that he was a creature designer for Avatar and he wrote and illustrated Expedition, the book that Alien Planet was based on.
  • The Tendu of Amy Thomson's The Color Of Distance and Through Alien Eyes communicate through changing patterns on their skins. In the dark, their words glow.

Live-Action TV
  • Darwin IV: Several of the alien species from Alien Planet (adapted from Expedition).
  • The Future Is Wild
  • The Most Extreme had the episode "Night Lights", which was all about finding the most extreme bioluminscent creature. The female angler fish won
  • During a brief period of unemployment, Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory mentions trying to engineer some bioluminescent goldfish (specifically to serve as an energy efficient pet/nightlight). It doesn't really come up again after a throw-away gag at the end of the episode, but he was successful in creating at least one.
  • In the Tracker pilot, Mel catches a glimpse of Cole glowing,something connected to his Cirronian nature and whatever he was doing in the bedroom at the time. (not *that*!)
  • One of the challenges on Face/Off required contestants to design creatures to be displayed under black light as well as visible, meaning the artists had to paint with colors they couldn't even see.

Tabletop Roleplaying Games
  • Usually in any dungeon crawl situation, there are caves that have bioluminescent moss or lichen growing on the walls/floors.

Video Games
  • Donkey Kong:
  • The hanar race from Mass Effect. They communicate via patterns of bioluminescence.
  • As do the Underlost from Septerra Core. That said, most of Shell 7 is covered with bioluminescent plants/fungi, serving as the primary source of light IN that layer.
  • The Macalania Woods in Final Fantasy X.
  • The markings on the Demi-fiend in Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne which Turns Red when he's low on health.
  • Definitely noticeable in Star Fox Adventures, which is arguably similar to Avatar in its visuals.
  • The Slylandro in Star Control II.
  • Zangarmarsh and Vashj'ir in World of Warcraft
  • The Forest, and the creatures who live there in CreaVures. Interestingly, the bioluminescence on the eponymous CreaVures also serves as a representation of your health (with it fading for a while if you're hit), and sometimes as an indication as to whether an aggressive animal is cowering or not (with theirs fading for a bit).
  • Everything in Alice: Madness Returns' the Deluded Depths. Even Alice's dress has an angler and glowing dots and stripes.
  • Glowing Fungus in Fallout: New Vegas in multiple colours. Some are edible.
  • In Terraria, you can find Blinkroot hidden underground, which does exactly what you'd think it does: Blinks. (Though only when it's blooming.) Also to be noted are tall Glowing Mushrooms, also found underground, and better for healing and potion-making than surface 'shrooms. Quite a number of mooks also glow in the dark.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • There's a couple of types of glowing mushrooms in Morrowind - violet coprus note  and luminous russula.
    • In Skyrim glowing mushrooms can be found growing in some caves. There is also the nirnroot, a plant which glows and makes a sound. Blackreach is a huge underground area full of enemies, ruins, giant glowing mushrooms and crimson nirnroots (which are like regular nirnroots, but are red instead of green).
      • Especially the Dawnguard add-on is fond of this. Both the fauna and flora of forgotten Valley of ancient Falmer love this trope. Caverns are lit by glowing flowers that retract themselves to their shells and animals have glowing blue stripes on them. Similarities with Avatar definitely coincidental.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword has Demise's hair.
  • Metroid Prime has several types of glowing mushrooms throughout, including ones in the Phazon Mines that are large enough to serve as platforms.
  • The Sylvari race in Guild Wars 2 are bioluminescent, intelligent plant beings. Did we mention that they're a playable race?
  • The Mushroom Garden in Plants vs. Zombies is lit almost entirely by luminescent fungi.

  • In Homestuck, when Kanaya becomes a rainbow drinker, she begins to glow. Her dancestor, Porrim, also bioluminesces, though she is better able to control it.

Western Animation
  • in BIONICLE: The Mask of Light, Takua gets distracted by some glowing coral-like structures. He immediately puts them on his head and starts hopping around like a fluorescent bunny rabbit.
  • The ants' cave in A Bug's Life is lit entirely by luminescent fungi.

Real Life
  • The protein Luciferase and its relatives are the cause of natural bioluminescence, for example in fireflies. It has been put into other creatures to create glowing bacteria, etc.
    • A more famous but unrelated protein is GFP (abbreviation for "Green Fluorescent Protein"). Its derivatives have been established as common tools for scientific research. It's not true bioluminescence: the protein is merely fluorescent, so it only glows under a light source.
  • Ravers and Cybergoths have a liking for glowsticks and clothes that imitate bioluminiscence. While it's definitely running off the Rule of Cool, there's also a functional reason behind it: Supposedly, the glow from these sources have a soothing effect on the mind, reducing the chances for a Bad Trip. Considering that these subcultures have a particular leaning towards psychedelic substances ...
  • True to the Life of Pi example, there are bioluminescent plankton that inhabit some waters, and glow when agitated or touched. A real time example can be seen here.