Entomology (Study of Bugs)/Bioluminescence


Dear dear Mr. Saugstad,

I got another sort of fragmented question about bioluminescence!! We know that insects such as Photinus pyralis, they would use luciferase and luciferin to produce light.

And a while ago I read a few articles about the relationship between microorganism and insects, or insects that lives in other insects (http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2014/11/mindsuckers/zimmer-text). Then I got an impression (possibly strongly incorrect) that microorganism could hugely influence the behaviors of certain insect species. And some microorganism or bacterias are indeed bioluminescent.

So, my question is, besides luciferase and luciferin that exist within insects' body. Is there any possibility that in some cases of insects bioluminescence. The light was produced by the bacteria or microorganism instead of luciferase and luciferin??

I can not thank you enough.

Dear Johnnie -
I am unaware of any insect that utilizes bioluminescent bacteria as light organs in the sense that some marine animals (fish, squid) may do. However bioluminescent bacteria may play another role in insect life histories; see “Bacteria” in http://tinyurl.com/n9ewz63. However, these bacteria do not appear to alter the behavior of the insects in question. That aside, there certainly are many examples of other bacteria (as well as viruses and protozoans) altering the behavior of their insect hosts. See http://tinyurl.com/n9ewz63 and http://tinyurl.com/ohs4zjr for details.
Hope this helps,

Entomology (Study of Bugs)

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Ed Saugstad


Will accept most questions in general entomology, including those related to medical entomology, taxonomy, ecology, arthropod surveillance, and pest management. If you are requesting a 'mystery bug' identification, PLEASE either attach an image to your question, or post an image on a web page (such as Flickr) so that I can look at it, as verbal descriptions frequently are insufficient for a definitive identification.


21 years in the U.S. Army as a medical entomologist; duties varied from surveillance of pest populations (including mosquitoes, cockroaches, ticks, and stored products pests) to conducting research on mosquito-virus ecological relationships and mosquito faunal studies. Ten years as a civilian analyst for the Department of Defense, primarily on distribution of vector-borne diseases worldwide. Limited experience on surveillance of agricultural insects in North Dakota and Indiana.

Entomological Society of America, West Virginia Entomological Society, Society for Vector Ecology, National Speleological Society, West Virginia Association for Cave Studies.

American Journal of Public Health, Contributions of the American Entomological Institute, Japanese Journal of Sanitary Zoology, Journal of Economic Entomology, Mosquito News, and Mosquito Systematics.

B.S. in entomology from North Dakota State University in 1963, M.S. in entomology from Purdue University in 1967.

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