As the mom of two young boys, I know I can always count on the Cleveland Museum of Natural History for hours of entertainment.
For us, the dinosaur bones and earthquake simulator alone are a worth the trip, not to mention the recently-expanded Ralph Perkins II Wildlife Center & Woods Garden, where my boys can get pretty up-close and personal with wildlife.
We made a recent visit, however, for the main purpose of checking out the new exhibit, “Creatures of Light: Nature’s Glowing Mysteries,” which lets visitors explore the deep sea, dark caves and dense forests to shine a light on bioluminescence in nature.
If your children — or yourself, for that matter — have ever wondered why fireflies shine in the dark of night or how certain fish illuminate the darkest depths of the ocean, this exhibit, which was organized by the American Museum of Natural History in New York, is for you.
Awe-inducing oversized models, live specimens, and interactive exhibits allow even the youngest guests to explore these organisms and their habitats in depth. Beginning with glowing mushrooms and ending with undersea creatures — like the anglerfish, which has a built-in fishing rod: a dorsal fin spine topped with a lure that pulses with bacterial light (a.k.a. the creepy fish that Marlin and Dory encounter in “Finding Nemo”) — visitors move through a series of re-created environments to explore the diversity of organisms that glow and how they do it.
Most commonly, bioluminescence is light produced by an organism as a result of a chemical reaction, according to Dr. Gavin Svenson, assistant director of science and curator and head of invertebrate zoology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Different species use bioluminescence for different purposes: to attract a mate, mark territory, lure unsuspecting prey, or defend against a predator.
While my 1-year-old was a little young to truly appreciate the exhibit, the darkness of the space and the glowing displays did hold his interest for longer than the usual 2.5 seconds. However, my 4-year-old son was enthralled, particularly with the glowworms, which suddenly appeared inside a “cave” after our eyes adjusted to the total darkness, and with the jellyfish display, which explains the difference between bioluminescence and fluorescence.
I know what you’re thinking: Aren’t these in-depth scientific concepts above the head of the average preschooler? Of course, but in my book, it’s always better to aim high while summarizing the concepts in a simple way that they can understand.
I’m happy if my 4-year-old comes away from a museum experience with one new fact learned; and in this case, he did: fireflies use their flashes to talk to each other. Success!
The “Creatures of Light” special exhibit runs through January 7, 2018, and is free with museum general admission. For information on museum hours and admission, click here.