Is it possible to consume bioluminescent organisms?

Do you ever reminisce about those endless summer nights when it seemed like you could play outside forever and the sun would never set? It’s easy to long for those days in the midst of winter when you wake up before the sun and can barely finish your homework before darkness falls.

One of the things we cherish most about those long summer nights is what happens after the sun goes down. That’s when we would grab our glass jars and explore the backyard in search of fireflies (or lightning bugs, if you prefer that term).

A glass jar filled with a dozen or more fireflies makes a perfect source of light for telling scary stories before bed. Their gentle glowing lights can also help ease you into sleep after a tiring day of play.

However, they are definitely not the ideal midnight snack if you happen to wake up feeling hungry! Just kidding! We do not advise eating fireflies in the middle of the night. However, there is one bioluminescent creature that is safe to consume: the firefly squid.

Scientifically known as Watasenia scintillans, the firefly squid is sometimes referred to as the sparkling enope squid. It can be found in various areas of the western Pacific Ocean, but particularly large populations exist in Toyama Bay in Japan, where it is known as hotaru-ika.

A small member of the squid family (which grows to be about three inches in length), the firefly squid gets its name from the fact that it illuminates like a firefly due to hundreds of bioluminescent photophores covering its body and emitting a unique blue light.

Usually found at depths between 600-1,200 feet, the firefly squid rises to the surface during mating season (March to May). When millions of firefly squid approach the surface of Toyama Bay, they create a mesmerizing light display in the water and along the beaches, attracting numerous people in the middle of the night.

Scientists are uncertain about the exact purpose of bioluminescence in firefly squids. Some believe that the glow may attract mates or assist the squid in communicating with rivals. Others speculate that it may deter or confuse predators.

Could the lights also attract prey? No one knows for certain. Scientists are divided on these theories. So far, no single theory has been proven correct.

What sets the firefly squid apart is that it is a bioluminescent creature that can be consumed. It is considered a delicacy in many countries, especially Japan where it is commercially fished during the spawning season.

It can be prepared in various ways, such as grilling, marinating, steaming, boiling, pickling, stewing, or frying. However, for locals in Japan, the best way to enjoy a firefly squid is to eat it raw, whole and fresh from the sea.

Not everyone enjoys the squishy, chewy texture of the firefly squid. Some people dislike its strong flavor, which some claim resembles that of liver. However, for many Japanese people, the taste of hotaru-ika is simply unparalleled.

Give it a try!

Feeling hungry yet? Make sure to experience the following activities with a few friends or family members:

  • If you want to witness the firefly squid in action, you can visit Arkive online and watch the Firefly Squid video. Imagine being on a fishing vessel in Toyama Bay when millions of firefly squid come to the surface, creating a bioluminescent blue ocean. Draw or color a picture depicting this scene.
  • Read the Flashes of Brilliance online to expand your knowledge about the firefly squid. Take note of at least five facts you learn and share them with a friend or family member. Are there any other aspects of the firefly squid that you are curious about? Formulate questions and conduct online research to find the answers!
  • Scientists are uncertain about the exact reasons behind the firefly squid’s bioluminescence. There are several theories, but none have reached a consensus or proven to be entirely accurate. What are your thoughts? Brainstorm possible explanations for the firefly squid’s ability to emit light. How would you test your ideas to validate them?

Wonder Sources

  • accessed 12 Dec. 2018
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  • accessed 12 Dec. 2018
  • accessed 12 Dec. 2018

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