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Bermuda fireworms have ‘unique’ glow

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(File photograph)

US researchers have shone a light on Bermuda’s glow worms.

Scientists at the American Museum of Natural History discovered the chemical that gives the Bermuda fireworms their glow is unique.

The study published in PLOS One found that a “luciferase enzyme” created the distinctive glow — but the chemical is different from those found in other “glowing” animals like fireflies.

Michael Tessler, a postdoctoral fellow in the museum’s Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics, added the discovery could be useful in future research.

He said: “It’s particularly exciting to find a new luciferase because if you can get things to light up under particular circumstances, that can be really useful for tagging molecules for biomedical research.”

Bermuda fireworms, found around the island and throughout the Caribbean, gain their name from their seasonal breeding display in which swarms of the animals light up.

The phenomenon was first recorded by explorer Christopher Columbus, and takes place minutes after sunset on the third night after the full moon in the summer and autumn.

Spawning female fireworms release a bright bluish-green luminescence intended to attract males.

Mark Siddall, a curator in the museum’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology and a coauthor of the study, said: “The female worms come up from the bottom and swim quickly in tight little circles as they glow, which looks like a field of little cerulean stars across the surface of jet black water.

“Then the males, homing in on the light of the females, come streaking up from the bottom like comets, they luminesce, too.

“There’s a little explosion of light as both dump their gametes in the water.

“It is by far the most beautiful biological display I have ever witnessed.”