Glowing Millipede Sheds New Light on Bioluminescence

posted: 05/05/15
by: Discovery.com Staff
Bioluminescent millipede
Paul Marek, Department of Entomology, Virginia Tech

A glowing bug that hasn't been seen by researchers in half a century is changing how scientists think about bioluminescence. Researchers first believed that the millipede, Motyxia bistipita, used its green-blue glow to fend off predators, much like a firefly.

However, a new study reveals that M. bistipita's glow is likely a response to the arid environment that the bug calls home. The magnesium-photoprotein reaction that causes the glow has an antioxidant effect that mitigates the "oxidative stress of living in a low-lying, dry environment", according to the study.

As he studied M. bistipita and its close relatives, study lead author Paul Marek discovered a correlation between the intensity of the creature's glow and the environment in which it lives; at higher elevations, the bugs glowed more brightly.

"Living things glow in many different colors and for many different reasons, but now we know that the early evolutionary role of bioluminescence may be completely different than its modern day function," said Marek. "This discovery clarifies the evolutionary origins of many complex traits, not just bioluminescence."

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