Glow in the Dark Michigan: the Railroad Worm

Railroad Worm by Jeff Baurs

Railroad Worm by Jeff Baurs

You may remember Jeff from the bioluminescent oyster mushrooms I shared last October. In any case, he’s back with another glowing critter he photographed last week, a railroad worm! The University of Florida Entomology & Nematology Department shares some information about these glow worms:

The family Phengodidae are uncommonly encountered beetles that have bioluminescent females that appear to be larvaiform (or larger versions of the immature stage.) These adult females are able to produce light from paired photic organs located on each body segment (one glowing spot on each side) and sometimes also from luminous bands that extend across the dorsal surface of the body between each body segment. Because these glowing spots along the females body resemble the windows of train cars internally illuminated in the night, they are often referred to as “railroad-worms.”

…Even though females appear to hide in their burrows during the day, they can often be detected on the surface of the ground by their glowing, immediately following a summer rain. Even though the females are bioluminescent, the females light emission does not appear to be the cue that the males use to locate their mates.

Be sure to follow Jeff on Facebook or Instagram for more including this shot of a railroad worm AND glowing oyster mushrooms!

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Glowing Flying Squirrels are actually a thing!

Southern Flying Squirrel Showing Biofluorescene by Lee Rentz

Southern Flying Squirrel Showing Biofluorescene by Lee Rentz

Lee’s incredibly cool shot of a southern flying squirrel exhibiting biofluorescence when illuminated by a UV light source led me to this fascinating 2019 New York Times article on the discovery of ultraviolet fluorescence in squirrels:

One spring night in Wisconsin, John Martin, a biologist, was in his backyard with an ultraviolet flashlight. Suddenly, a hot-pink squirrel flew by.

It was a southern flying squirrel, a small, furry creature most active at dawn and dusk. Under most circumstances, it has a warm brown color. But in the beam of Dr. Martin’s flashlight, it sported a gaudy Day-Glo hue closer to something you might see in a nightclub or a Jazzercise class circa 1988.

“He told his colleagues at Northland College, but of course, everyone was pretty skeptical,” said Allison Kohler, a graduate student at Texas A&M University.

Dr. Martin asked Ms. Kohler, then a student at Northland, to look into it. After examining more than 100 specimens of flying squirrels across two museum collections and spotting five more squirrels under UV light in the wild, the researchers and their colleagues reported surprising results last week in the Journal of Mammalogy: The pink is real.

…What the flying squirrels get out of it is still a mystery. Confirming that the squirrels are even capable of seeing in ultraviolet wavelengths will require additional study, Ms. Kohler said.

The researchers have some hypotheses concerning what’s behind the squirrels’ Day-Glo displays. Ultraviolet rays are abundant during the dawn and dusk periods when the squirrels are moving around. So it is reasonable to expect that the fluorescence is visible to other organisms even when there are no biologists with UV flashlights in the vicinity.

The vivid pink color might have evolved to confuse the owls who prey on the squirrels. Those birds of prey fluoresce in precisely the same hue themselves; a flying squirrel may look, superficially at least, like a flying owl.

Or, if it’s confirmed that the squirrels see UV, the color might have something to do with mating or signaling to other flying squirrels.

“It could also just be not ecologically significant to the species,” Ms. Kohler said, noting that future work will delve into the question. “It could just be a cool color that they happen to produce.”

Head over to Lee’s Flickr for more shots of this squirrel & a friend!!

PS: Can I interest you in glow in the dark mushrooms?

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Faerie Lights: Bioluminescent Oyster Mushrooms

Bioluminscent Oyster Mushrooms by Jeff Baurs

Bioluminescent Oyster Mushrooms by Jeff Baurs

It’s not every day that I learn something new about Michigan, but the fact that Michigan has mushrooms that produce their own illumination is a new one to me!! PlantSnap explains that Bitter Oyster Mushrooms (Panellus stipticus) are one of over 80 species of bioluminescent mushrooms:

The mushrooms use a class of molecules called luciferins, which paired with an enzyme and oxygen, release light. Panellus stipticus (also known as the bitter oyster) is one of the brightest-glowing examples of bioluminescent fungi. It is found throughout Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America. These flat mushrooms grow on tree branches creating a mesmerizing effect as soon as the sun goes down. Foragers are able to find this variety growing around birch, oak, and beech trees.

The luciferins found in bioluminescent mushrooms are the same compound found in fireflies and underwater creatures.

They recommend that the best way to find them is by identifying them in the daytime, and you can head over to It’s Nature for a look at the bitter oyster mushroom.

Jeff took this photo a couple nights ago in southwest Michigan (Barry County). You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram for more great pics!

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