When was the last time you marveled over a firefly’s bright glow?
During summertime in Ohio, nature’s tiny flying flashlights are out there every night, glowing up a storm. Whether you call them fireflies or lightning bugs, they really are the coolest phenomenon.
I’ve always been amazed by glowing things out in nature. Watching fireflies this summer made me think about other cool glow-in-the-dark phenomena I’ve experienced.
Here are three of my favorites.
Bioluminescent ocean algae
Where I grew up, we didn’t have a ton of fireflies in the summer but once in a while, we had something even cooler: bioluminescent algae in the waters right out in front of our Long Island home.
We didn’t get bioluminescent or phosphorescent seas very often – only a couple of times that I can remember – and that’s probably a good thing. As cool and amazing as it is, the overgrowth of algae that causes the glow at night can appear red in the daylight (known as “red tide”) and typically does not make for good swimming conditions.
The first time my parents told my brother and me about bioluminescence in the water, we could scarcely believe it. It sounded like a dream or something they had made up. My mom told us it was like magic! But then, not too long afterward, it happened again. This time, my folks woke us up so we could experience and see it for ourselves. (This blogger’s Long Island bioluminescence experience sounds a lot like ours.)
I remember my parents took us out in our small dinghy boat and we were able to trail our hands in the water to see the glow. We also experimented with dipping the oars in the water to see how that affected the glow. Our little boat’s outboard motor made the brightest glow of all. That’s because the glow happens when the phosphorescent algae is disturbed, and they definitely didn’t like that motor!
There are several places in the world where you can see bioluminescence in person, and one day I’d love to take Zoe to one of these amazing glowing bays and beaches. Who knows – maybe we’ll even go for a fluorescent night dive!
Bonus tip: you can see a Hollywood movie version of this natural phenomenon in the wonderful 2012 film, Life of Pi.
Longtime readers of this blog know that we’re pretty crystal-crazy in this house. But did you know there are actually rocks and crystals that naturally fluoresce or glow under black light? The one I’m particularly fond of is Yooperlite, because it’s local to the midwest.
Yooperlite glowing rocks were discovered in Michigan in 2017 by Erik Rintamaki, who gave them their regional northern Michigan name (the Upper Peninsula is known as the “UP” or “Yoopie” to locals). These look like ordinary grey river rocks, but under a black light, they have sodalite pockets that fluoresce brightly.
What I love so much about Yooperlites is that they could be literally anywhere around where we live, since Ohio is so close to Michigan. If there are large quantities of ordinary grey rocks in your area, try going out some night with a black light UV flashlight on a Yooperlite hunt to see if you can find any Yooperlites! This is a super fun activity for families with kids of just about any age.
Bonus tip: you could always purchase a few Yooperlite rocks from Yooperlites.com or on eBay, then hide them around your yard to be sure you’ll find some on your family Yooperlite hunt.
The latest addition to my obsession with all things glowing is uranium glass. Last fall when we were frequent vendors at the Mystic Market, we met the Mathues and fell in love with their amazing, radioactive, glow-in-the-dark glass wares.
Produced from the 1800s to the 1940s, uranium glass is simply glassware that contains trace elements of uranium which allows it to vividly glow under black light. Z and I both started a small collection of uranium glass and have since found other small pieces at antique shops and thrift stores.
Prices for uranium glass vary widely, but you can usually find small pieces like vintage salt cellars (small glass bowls) for $10 or even less if you’ve got sharp eyes and the people selling it don’t realize that it glows. The best way to find affordable uranium glass is when it’s lumped in with large assortments of regular glass and not labeled as uranium glass at all.
Bonus tip: If you keep a small UV black light on you when you go thrifting, you too can join in this fun treasure hunt and find gorgeous glowing glass treasures without spending a fortune.
As you can tell, I’ve got an avid interest in things that glow in the dark. Don’t even get me started on the glow runs my bestie and I love to do. They are my favorite 5Ks ever!
If you’ve got stories about other magical, glowing objects and natural phenomena, I’m all ears in the comments below or over on Facebook or Instagram.