Firefox That Glows

Mysterious Earth | | September 13, 2010 at 12:05 am



If you thought that bioluminescence occurs only in the water, think again! During the last of the summer months, you might encounter what looks like an eerie and faint glow from the forests spanning across the world. This is where bioluminescent mushrooms will sprout on the branches of moist and rotting trees. This is known by the name ‘Foxfire’.

About Bioluminescence:

Bioluminescence could be defined as the light which is created by any living organism. The bioluminescent ability of the firefly is perhaps, one of the most commonly known phenomenons across the world. The firefly will light up its abdomen as a signal to potential mates during its mating season.

There have been a lot of examples over the world where bioluminescent fungus has been reported to be found in the forests. The difference is that bioluminescent light will be different from the light of a light bulb or a candle. This would mean that there is very little radiation of heat in such cases.

This light is known to be an impending result of a sort of biochemical reaction which is caused by the oxidation of Luciferin and its reaction gets catalyzed by Luciferase, which is an enzyme.

Bioluminescent foxfire

In Rewind Mode:

Luminous wood was perhaps first reported by Aristotle in his writings as early as 382 BC. The next record of luminous wood was found in the literature of Robert Boyle who said that he had noticed that the earth was showing signs of glowing and what had startled him was the fact that the light did not bring heat along with it.

Most of these early observers believed that this light was a product of animal interactions or small insects.

The first time when the fungi got associated with the luminosity was in the year 1823, when Bishoff noted that the light was emitted due to fungus that was present on the wood. He noticed this when he was doing a study on luminous timbers which were being used as a means of support in the mines. This report was said to pave the path for further studies by scientists; and more studies began by Fabre. Fabre is said to have established the absolute parameters of bioluminescent fungi –

  • The light is without heat
  • The light will cease in a vacuum, carbon dioxide and hydrogen
  • The light is known to exist independent of temperature, humidity, light
  • The light will not burn any better with pure oxygen

The work which is done by Herring in the year 1978 threw light on further details about how and when this bioluminescence worked.

Bioluminescent fungi

Where can it be found?

Foxfire is said to be witnessed all over the world, but it known to be more common in the tropics. Moist forests of the tropics are known to encourage the growth of such fungi. There have been some newer varieties of these glow-in-the-dark versions of mushrooms and these were introduced to the outside world after they were collected at the Ribeira Valley Tourist State Park which is located close to Sao Paulo in Brazil.

If you really wish to see one of these in person, then we’d suggest you begin looking for them in the wettest of all seasons and you’d have to move towards the inside of the jungle and keep away from any sort of light sources which might dim the faint glow.

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11 Comments

  1. Frootie Thomas says:

    Firefox has inspired fear and wonder since time immemorial. Imagine finding a tree branch shining bright (with apologies to William Blake) in the forests of the night!Legends describing such eerie encounters can be found in ancient Greek, Roman, and Indian texts.

  2. Matthew Philips says:

    Haha Frootie Thomas! That’s really incredible!Legends describing such eerie encounters can be found in ancient
    Greek, Roman, and Indian texts. It has even been suggested that this phenomenon may explain the biblical story of the bush that burned without being consumed, showing Moses the way to the Promised Land. It was pointed out by the British mycologist John Ramsbottom, however, that Moses was unlikely to have led the way at night, when the luminescence would be visible!

    Thanks for the post :-)

  3. Jessy Jackson says:

    The whole subject of bioluminescence is wanting for an explanation.
    Luminescent animals may conceivably use the light to find mates or food, but this can hardly be the reason mushrooms glow in the dark.

    Nice post!

  4. Rosemary Jones says:

    An interesting post!People from many parts of the world have found uses for these natural lanterns. The Swedish historian Olaus Magnus wrote in 1652 that people in the far north of Scandinavia would place pieces of rotten oak bark at intervals when venturing into the forest. They could then find their way back by following the light.
    Thanks for the information :-)

  5. Qwert Mcguire says:

    I heard from my great grandfather that during World War I
    soldiers in the trenches placed touchwood on their helmets to keep from bumping into others in the dark. The Native American herbalist Keewaydinoquay relates that an Ahnishinaubeg shaman of her acquaintance positioned two glowing wooden pillars on either side of her doorway, much as suburban homeowners arrange lights on a front lawn. These ghostly lights scared visitors instead of attracting them, however, and the logs were soon
    dumped.
    What an interesting blog of yours! :-)

  6. Romilla Clearwaters says:

    In an episode of Lassie, which we used to watch when I was a kid, Timmy and Boomer hunt for foxfire so as to scare the girls into not kissing them at the Hallowe’en party!

    There was a time when bioluminescent fungi had greater currency than today. The time was World War II, and stories abound of GIs in the tropical jungles of Pacific islands using these mushrooms for a variety of unexpected purposes. Troops on patrol stuck them on weapons and helmets to avoid colliding with each other in the deeps of nighttime jungles.
    Thanks for the post :-)

  7. Dork Dumpty says:

    Haha Romilla Clearwaters!

    I read somewhere,British mycologist John Ramsbottom reported that an American war correspondent on assignment in New Guinea began a letter to his wife, “Darling, I am writing to you tonight by the light of five mushrooms.”

    Keep posting :-) :-)

  8. Bree Maxmueller says:

    What evolutionary advantage would cause fungi to develop bioluminescence? Phosphorescence attracts night-flying insects that disperse spores, and it also attracts parasitic wasps that attack fungus gnats. He speculates that it may be a vestigial product of reactions that protected fungi from toxic concentrations of oxygen.

    Cool post :-)

  9. Andrie Baxter says:

    Unless you are a skilled mycologist, it’s also wise to avoid what are known as LBMs—little brown mushrooms—of which there are dozens of species found growing ubiquitously in a variety of moist habitats. These small fungi, which range from beige to bright brown to slightly gray, have button caps and thin stems, and are extremely difficult to identify with certainty. Many are toxic.

  10. Juliett Rochher says:

    Undoubtedly, the best way to break into mushroom hunting is to apprentice under a knowledgeable forager. But be careful in your choice of mentors. Most of the 10,000 to 15,000 cases of mushroom poisoning recorded each year in this country involve people who thought they knew their mushrooms. Trust as a guide only someone who has years of experience foraging the region, and even then, proceed carefully.

  11. Enrique Crater says:

    Wild mushroom enthusiasts like to remind more timid foragers that only six of the several thousand types of fungi on this continent are deadly. While this is essentially true, it’s only part of the story.

    Let’s not forget that there are also at least 70 species linked to “gastrointestinal irritation,” which can be severe to fatal—18 known to contain the toxin muscarine, which can disrupt bodily functions, and 30 others that cause hallucinations ranging from distressing to outright dangerous.

    Add the fact that both the deadly few and the toxic many are widely distributed—and in many cases may bear at least superficial resemblance to certain edible species—and a fuller perspective begins to emerge. A little fear of fungi may not be such a bad thing, if it leads to safe and careful foraging.

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