, Volume 146, Issue 1, pp 39-51
Date: 28 Jul 2004

Bioluminescence of deep-sea coronate medusae (Cnidaria: Scyphozoa)

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Abstract

Bioluminescence is the production of visible light by a living organism. The light commonly appears as flashes from point sources (involving one or more cells, usually described as photocytes) or as a glandular secretion. A visible flash usually involves synchronous light emission from a group of cells or, if from a single-celled organism such as a dinoflagellate, from a group of organelles. The number of cells (or organelles) responding synchronously is the main determinant of the flash intensity. Bioluminescence is a common phenomenon in many deep-sea animals and is widespread among the Cnidaria. In this paper, we compare and contrast in situ and laboratory recordings of the bioluminescent responses of specimens of the deep-sea scyphozoans Atolla wyvillei, Atolla vanhoffeni, Atolla parva, Nausithoe rubra, Paraphyllina intermedia, Periphyllopsis braueri and Periphylla periphylla. Displays in all seven species consist of localised flashes and propagated waves of light in the surface epithelium. The first few single waves propagate at rates of up to 60 cm s-1 but subsequent ones in any sequence of stimuli gradually decrease in speed. After several single wave responses, a subsequent stimulus may elicit multiple waves that persist for several seconds. Following such a frenzy, the specimen becomes temporarily refractory to further stimuli, but if rested will recover its normal responses and may produce further frenzies. The dome area, situated above the coronal groove, of the genera Paraphyllina, Periphylla, and Nausithoe is covered with luminescent point sources. Such point sources are generally absent from the dome of species of Atolla. Captured specimens of A. parva also produce secretory bioluminescence, corroborating prior in situ observations of this ability. Secretory bioluminescence in P. periphylla takes the form of scintillating particles released from the lappet margins. We did not observe secretory displays in specimens of any other species in the laboratory, but one instance of apparent secretory luminescence was recorded in situ in a specimen of A. wyvillei.

Communicated by J. P. Thorpe, Port Erin