Sunday, January 03, 2016

Get Glowing! Glow: Animals with Their Own Night-Lights by W. H. Beck

BIOLUMINESCENCE [by-oh-loo-mih-neh-sense] is when living things make their own light.

I'll never forget my first experience of this phenomenon. I was a little kid walking at night with my parents at the edge of the water on a Gulf of Mexico beach. I looked back and saw my last few footprints glowing in the dark. I discovered that I could dance in the wavelets and stir up clouds of sparkling lights in the water. It was unforgettable!

Aside from the twinkling fireflies of summer nights, most of us have little experience with bioluminescence. Yet, according to W. H. Beck's forthcoming Glow: Animals with Their Own Night-Lights (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015), I was in the right place at just the right time:

Water covers two-thirds of the earth. An estimated fifty to eighty percent of all life forms are found under the ocean's surface.

Although we humans prefer to flip a switch, a lot of other creatures have got their glow going!

The sparkling shallows of the Gulf that seemed to reflect the dark starry skies I encountered were, as Beck tells us, awash with wave-driven dinoflagellates, little one-celled creatures which generate their own glow, strangely not to highlight themselves, but to light their predators who will, with luck, get eaten by larger predators first. The jewel squid lights his underside to blend in with the top of the water and become invisible to predators berneath. Like fireflies, who know that "the nighttime is the right time," lanternfish light up to socialize with other lanternfish, while the infamous dragonfish and the anglerfish use a glowing lure, conveniently located near their fang-filled mouths, to lure their prey to a dark end.

And some use their bioluminescence as part of a novel defense system:

When the deep-sea Spanish dancer is threatened, its outer skin lights up, comes off, and sticks to its attacker.

Now the predator is the one at risk of being spotted--and eaten.

With white-on-black text and stunning color photographs set against glossy black pages, Beck's photo essay on this awe-inspiring biological phenomenon makes for eye-opening reading. Beck appends a sizable bibliography and a photo-glossary with thumbnail pictures and descriptions that reveal even more about his twenty-two fascinating luminous subjects which will dazzle young readers almost as much as did my nocturnal beachcombing discoveries long ago. A stellar nonfiction book that will definitely enlighten elementary readers.

W. H. Beck must be a lover of the night: her two recent notable novels for young people are Malcolm at Midnight and Malcolm Under the Stars.  (Read my reviews here.)

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