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Bioluminescent organisms lighting up your local post office

This new US stamp features a photo of a tomopterid worm taken by Steve Haddock. Image: US Post Office

Bioluminescent organisms lighting up your local post office

Photo of the Bioluminescent Life stamp collection being released on February 22, 2018. Photo credit: United States Postal Service

Feb 20, 2018 – The United States Postal Service will unveil a new series of forever stamps highlighting the diverse and beautiful world of bioluminescence on Feb. 22nd. Bioluminescence is characterized as the production and emission of light by living organisms. This process is found across phyla, from deep-sea corals to fireflies.

The collection of stamps includes photos of ten organisms that display bioluminescence. Several of the stamps feature photos of deep-sea animals by MBARI Senior Scientist Steve Haddock and MBARI Adjunct Edith Widder. Widder will attend the dedication ceremony in Fort Pierce, Florida, where she will describe her research on bioluminescence.

This stamp, issued by the US Post Office, features a photo of a tomopterid worm taken by MBARI marine biologist Steve Haddock. Image: United States Postal Service

Haddock’s contribution was a photo of Tomopteris—an agile polychaete worm that lives at depths down to about 2,500 meters, and is a voracious predator of other midwater animals.

Regarding photographing Tomopteris worms, Haddock, an expert on bioluminescence, described what a tough subject they can be. “We have to collect Tomopteris in excellent condition, otherwise they are so disturbed by the collection process that they expend their limited light-producing resources. Once back in the lab, they are a very challenging subject to photograph as they are very transparent and ceaselessly swim when excited. When disturbed, they eject a cloud of golden sparkles into the water.”

Tomopteris is unusual in that it makes yellow light, instead of the typical green or blue bioluminescence created by most marine organisms. Haddock and his team are studying the chemistry of the molecules that create bioluminescence in the hope of gaining insight on why Tomopteris produces yellow light.

Yellow bioluminescence created by Tomopteris worms. Photo credit: Steve Haddock © 2018 MBARI

To learn more about the Bioluminescent Life stamp collection, visit the USPS website:

Learn more about the bioluminescence research at MBARI:

Article by Megan Bassett

For additional information or images relating to this article, please contact: Kim Fulton-Bennett