for lessons > Go
back to search results > Lesson
title or topic of activity
in the Dark: A study on bioluminescence
| This activity is designed to teach
students about bioluminescence and its significance in the mesopelagic
(midwater) and deep sea. A brief introduction to bioluminescence will
start things off: Define bioluminescence, discuss the kinds of animals
(use pictures) that use bioluminescence, discuss how it works, and
discuss the environments it is found in. Next, show a video clip to
illustrate bioluminescence and the animals that use it. The students
will then participate in a glow stick activity that will allow them
to be bioluminescent creatures in the deep sea. The students will
need to work together for this hands-on activity. Next, the students
will get to design their own midwater/deep sea fish that uses bioluminescence.
Finally, the instructor can follow up the lesson by giving out a worksheet
on bioluminescence for the students to complete, or by giving a small
|This lesson plan is designed
for grade levels 5-8.
description or introduction
The scientific principles
that the activity is founded on.
|Bioluminescence is the production
of light by living organisms (including animals and chemosynthetic
bacteria); using light organs called photophores. The light results
from a chemical reaction involving enzymes and specialized phosphorus-containing
molecules. Bioluminescence is found in species of bacteria, algae,
fungi, and invertebrate animals. This light appears on the outside
of an animalÕs body and is usually seen as flashes. Many animals use
bioluminescence for communication, to attract prey and mates, and
to avoid predators. Bioluminescence can be found in animals in the
deep sea, such as fish, as well as in land animals, such as fireflies.
This lesson plan is fun and engaging for students. It will take approximately
Bioluminescence helps us to better understand life in the mesopelagic
and deep sea. The mesopelagic zone is the open water environment
that ranges from a depth of 100-200 meters to 1,000 meters. This
zone, also called the midwater zone, does not support phytoplankton
or other plants because light is very dim. This means that photosynthesis
cannot take place here. Krill, copepods, and ostracods are small
crustaceans common to the environment. Arrow worms, squid, and many
small fish, including bristlemouths and lanternfishes are also found
in this environment. Animals that live in the mesopleagic possess
photophores, which are specialized organs that produce light.
The bioluminescent photophores of mesopelagic animals produce
light that helps the animal blend in with the background. This is
called counterillumination, which is similar to countershading.
Most mesopelagic bioluminescence is blue-green. Many of the animals
can control their bioluminescence, making it bright for bright backgrounds
and dim for dim ones. This can be very important for avoiding predation,
for attracting prey, and for communication and courtship. Some animals
use photophores to produce bioluminescence, while others use specialized
tissues, and others have symbiotic bacteria that live in specialized
cells and produce the light.
Bioluminescence is as common to the deep sea as it is to the mesopelagic.
However, deep-sea organisms do not use bioluminescence for counterillumination.
It is too dark in the deep sea for this to be effective. Instead,
it is used for attracting prey, communication, and for courtship.
Deep-sea animals mostly include fishes with the following characteristics:
small size, small eyes, large mouths, expandable stomachs, and poorly
developed swim bladders. Bristlemouths and anglerfishes are the
most common to this area.
for the activity
|This is an original idea. However,
my professor, Katrina Mangin, and my graduate teaching assistant,
Heather Bleakley, gave me the idea and information for the glow stick
time to do the activity
| It will take approximately
|Have the students develop and
understanding of bioluminescence.
|I want the students to learn mesopelagic/deep-sea
|Have the students understand why
bioluminescence is important.
|Have the students expand their
thinking and begin to think further about the significance of adaptation
Science Education Standards. (NSES)
content standards that this lesson plan covers:
|Students should be able to
recognize patterns in ecosystems and develop understandings about
the cellular dimensions of living systems. They should expand their
knowledge of one organism and apply it to populations and communities.
For bioluminescence, the students should learn to apply it as an adaptation
and not just a characteristic.
|Students should be able to
develop an understanding of the diversity and the adaptations of organisms.
Although species look dissimilar, the students should be able to develop
an understanding of the unity among organisms by analyzing similar
- Construction paper,
- Popsicle sticks,
- crayons and/or markers,
- scissors, glow in the dark paint,
- glow in the dark glue (both are available at Walgreens).
- One to two packages of glow sticks (depending on class size),
which are also available at WalgreenÕs or Party City.
- Pictures of mesopelagic and deep-sea animals, such as bristlemouth
fish, lanternfish, anglerfish, squid, and krill (A good book to
use is Ocean by Miranda MacQuitty, which can be found at Barnes
and Noble Bookstores).
- Pictures should be enlarged and placed on posterboard.
- A video on the topic of bioluminescence is also needed. The
video shows animals emitting their bioluminescence. It also gives
an in depth look at what bioluminescence is and how it works.
The video can be found at the University of Arizona Library, or
can be ordered from the Discovery Channel.
|All of the background information
should be prepared, the posterboards with the animal pictures should
be ready, and the video should be ready.
Procedure for the Activity
The activity is for the whole class (approximately 25 students).
1) Start by giving the students a brief introduction: Define bioluminescence,
discuss how it works, and discuss what kinds of environments it
would be found in.
2) Ask the students what kinds of animals they think would have
bioluminescence. This will help engage the students in the lesson.
Then show them pictures of bioluminescent organisms.
3) Put the video in for them to watch. The video shouldnÕt last
longer than 15 minutes. This will help them see first hand what
bioluminescence is and how it works.
4) Prepare the students for the glow stick activity. The classroom
should be arranged so that there are not any obstacles in the center
of the room.
5) Give each student a glow stick. It is necessary to bend them
so that the chemical reaction is activated and the stick begins
6) Choose a couple of students who will get to be the predators
the number of predators will depend on the size of the class. For
a class of 25, there should be about 3-4 predators.
7) Divide the other students into groups. Each group represents
a different species of bioluminescent organisms.
8) The students can come up with secret flashes on their stick so
that they know their group from another group. The goal is to not
get eaten by the predator.
9) Send the predators into the hall.
10) The groups should be broken up. The groups should try and find
each other so that they can reproduce. The students should try and
find the other members of their group based on their secret flashing
11) Turn all the light off and let the predators into the room.
The predators are going to tag anyone they can. If a student gets
tagged, then they must they are out and must wait until the next
12) If two members of the same group find each other, then they
can go release another member of their group that has been tagged.
13) The game will end if the predator tags everybody.
14) This can be done a number of different times and the different
people can play the predators.
15) After this is complete and everyone has settled down, pass out
the necessary materials for the students to design their own bioluminescent
organism. Glow in the dark paint and glue is available. After the
pictures are drawn and cut out, glue (or tape) a Popsicle stick
on the end so that they can be held like a lollipop.
16) Show and tell each studentÕs animal.
17) End the lesson with a worksheet on bioluminescence, or a small
quiz to check and see what they have learned.
work sheets, additional web pages
for discussion or conclusion
|How is bioluminescence related
|Why is bioluminescence significant
|Are there any terrestrial
animals that are able to utilize bioluminescence
|Bioluminescence is an adaptation
used by many animals, some in the sea and some on land. It is used
to increase their survival success by helping them with communication.
Bioluminescence has many ecological benefits that can be applied to
the principles of ecology.
activities which relate to and extend the complexity of the experiment.
|A further activity
could demonstrate how bioluminescence affects other species. The students
could also come up with some ideas on how humans use light, and how
it is extremely important to our everyday lives. This lesson plan
could lead into a discussion on bacteria because many types of bacteria
take part in bioluminescence.
A web address with information on the topic of the activity.
|Marine Biology by Peter
Castro and Michael Huber, McGraw Hill, 2000