The Public Museum’s newest exhibit goes dark, allowing the creatures to light the way

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By Joanne Bailey-Boorsma


Fireflies dancing across the night sky. Jellyfish floating gracefully through a sea’s current. Each of these offer a colorful display of light in the darkness.


That generation of light by living things is called bioluminescence, which is created by chemical reactions. And it is not produced for beauty but used to attract a mate, lure unsuspecting prey and/or defend against a predator. These creatures who use bioluminescence are the focus of a new Grand Rapids Public Museum exhibit, “Creatures of the Light.”


“This is a very different exhibit for us,” said Kate Moore, the Public Museum’s vice president of marketing and public relations, adding that is partly because the exhibit is in very low light as to better showcase the bioluminescence of the plants and animals featured. “It is a different topic then what we have offered in the past and it has an emersion feel that you experience as you travel through the exhibit.”


Opening on Saturday and running through July 9, “Creatures of the Light,” starts by exploring the living things that are on the ground that utilize bioluminescence, such as mushrooms, or fly through the air, such as fireflies. From there, it travels to Waitomo Glowworm Caves in New Zealand where visitors can feel what it is like to view the worms in the caves.


The recreated Waitomo Glowworm Caves of New Zealand. (Photo courtesy of the Grand Rapids Public Museum)

Then the exhibit heads to open water, where a majority of bioluminescence creatures live. “In the depths of the ocean, there is complete darkness so the animals living there survive using bioluminescence,” Moore said. Think of “Finding Nemo,” when Dory and Marlin, swimming in complete darkness, see a light and follow it almost right into the hungry mouth of a angler fish.


But before you can get to the depths, you must first explore the ocean’s surface where plankton organisms called dinoflagellates will follow your movement and creating a glowing halo around anything that moves. From there, is the Bloody Bay Wall, lit up by coral and fishes followed, of course, by jellyfish. And then finally, you are where almost 90 percent of the bioluminescence animals live, 2,200 feet below sea level in darkness, where the angler fish is waiting to greet you along with some other interesting animals.


While the exhibit is dark, it is not scary, Moore said with Public Museum’s Marketing Communications Manager Christie Bender liking it to a ride at Disney World that has little or no light. “It’s a fun experience,” Bender said. “It has that Disney ride, magical sense.”


Elements such as the illuminated floor with the dinoflagellates will easily entertain along with the wonderment of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Adding to the exhibit, will be a pop-up store by the entrance into the exhibit offering glow sticks, as well as other items, allowing participants to “glow” as they move through the exhibit.


“Creatures of the Light” is one of two new spring/summer exhibits at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. Opening in May will be “Mindbender Manson,” which will feature 40 brain teasers and five group activities.


“The Museum is excited to bring in these two new, innovative exhibits that encourage our visitors to explore more about the world around us, as well as test knowledge and
skills in puzzle solving,” said GRPM’s President & CEO Dale Robertson. “’Creatures of Light’ reveals some of the most magical, wondrous, and truly extraordinary creatures and phenomena to be found in the natural world, and ‘Mindbender Mansion’ is a family friendly way to learn and adapt constructive thinking skills.”

“Creatures of Light” is part of the museum general admission which is $8 for adults, $5 for  Kent County resident adults; $7 for seniors, $3 for Kent County resident seniors, and $3 for students.  “Mindbender Manison” will be $10 for adults, $5 for children, $7 for Kent County resident adults and $2 for Kent County resident children, and free for Museum members.

For more information about exhibits and programs at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, visit The Grand Rapids Public Museum is located at 272 Pearl St. NW.