The Lustrous Light Of Foxfire Bioluminescence

Published October 28, 2013
Updated February 27, 2024

Some of the most magical things the planet has to offer are the most natural. Case in point? Foxfire bioluminescence.

Foxfire Bioluminescence

Source: About

Take a midnight stroll through the golden foliage-filled woods this fall and you might discover foxfire, a type of fungus that primarily grows in decaying wood. Also called fairy fire, the fungi creates light during a chemical reaction that occurs when the quick-growing, healthy fungal cells consume wood and the oxidative enzyme luciferase reacts with luciferin.

Though air pollution and other factors can affect the foxfire’s brightness, some say the fungus’ bioluminescence is so bright that one could read a book with only the fungus’ light. Foxfire is the informal term for many different bioluminescent fungi including Panellus stipticus, which grows as small clusters of glowing mushrooms.

Foxfire On Branch

Source: WordPress

Bioluminescent life forms create their own light by mixing certain chemical compounds together to form a glow. As this luminescence neither requires nor produces heat (unlike much light humans use), it is often called cold light. Scientists estimate that creatures produce light either to scare off predators or to attract insects and promote the spread of spores. Either way, bioluminescence is equal parts breathtaking and eerie when one stumbles upon it in real life.

Foxfire Glow

Source: My Corant

Though bioluminescent animals have been sighted and recorded for thousands of years, it wasn’t until the 1600s that scientists first began understanding the processes by which animals produced light.

Now, more than four hundred years later, scientists are still unsure how certain species are able to set themselves aglow. Even though scientists can explain the phenomenon in many cases, encountering the brilliantly-lit animals in real life is still a peculiar experience, and the source of many myths, stories and legends.

Bioluminescence Panellus Stipticus

Source: The Best How-To

Green Fungi

Source: Deviant Art

Aside from the foxfire fungus, many other bioluminescent creatures exist, including certain species of bacteria, algae, invertebrates and fish. Fireflies are one of the most common bioluminescent insects, and are not hard to find in many parts of the world. Other bioluminescent organisms include cone jellies and jellyfish, ponyfish, scorpions and other ocean creatures.

Fox Fire

Source: Luxirare

Fairy Fire

Source: Live Science

Kiri Picone
Kiri Picone holds a B.A. in English and creative writing from Pepperdine University and has been writing for various digital publishers for more than 10 years.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.
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Picone, Kiri. "The Lustrous Light Of Foxfire Bioluminescence.", October 28, 2013, Accessed May 22, 2024.