Photo: An oversized model of a jack-o-lantern mushroom, part of the Creatures of Light exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa. The model is around 40 times the size of the actual mushroom, which grows on decaying wood in Eastern North American forests. (Photo: ©AMNH\D. Finnin)
Many Canadians have seen the flicker of fireflies in summer, but not many have seen the glow of New Zealand cave worms or the haunting pulses of the flashlight fish.
Since most people can’t go spelunking in New Zealand or diving in the deep ocean, the Canadian Museum of Nature has a new exhibit that brings the glowing world of bioluminescence to Ottawa.
“We are constantly searching for subjects that will inspire curiosity,” says Meg Beckel, president and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Nature. “Our hope is that this exhibit will inspire people to learn more about the natural world.”
Opening this Saturday, the museum’s Creatures of Light exhibit gives visitors the chance to experience some of the world’s most unique creatures.
Unlike most exhibits, this one is as dark as a moonless night, with the only light coming from the glowing displays. While it was challenging to create the exhibit, Kathy Conlan, a scientist at the museum, says it was worth it.
“This is a world that maybe we’ve seen a tiny bit of,” she says. “It’s very ephemeral, and that adds to the magic. The bulk of bioluminescence happens where we can’t go.”
The highlight of the exhibit is two dark aquariums containing flashlight fish that were captured off the coast of Japan during the last new moon. Stuart Baatnes, the live animal technician in charge of the fish, says the new moon is the only time when they “congregate in mass numbers because it’s the darkest and safest time for them to come out.”
Despite their name, flashlight fish are hard to see. But as your eyes adjust, you notice faint pulses of light, similar to fireflies, but turquoise in colour, moving in random patterns. Get closer, allow your eyes to adjust and schools of fish with glowing patches materialize out of the dark water.
There’s also a deep ocean section of the exhibit. Ninety per cent of the world’s bioluminescent animals live 700 metres below the waves. This section features large-scale models of fish, like the terrifying angler, and a movie showing footage of some of the rarest animals caught on camera.
The exhibit runs until Nov. 9.
Want to learn more about the ocean’s brightest creatures? Find out what an ichthyologist has to say and learn about five bioluminescent fish in Canadian waters.