Here's the scenario: animals on a world with an atmosphere with a significant amount of a certain gas is able to store "air" into a transparent growth (like a crest) and, with an electrical chord in the "crest", makes a glowing light with different colors depending on what's produced in the crest. The questions in mind are:

*Could the process work?

*What would be the best gas to use?

*How much of this gas would be needed in the atmosphere for the process to happen?

  • $\begingroup$ This would be a very different bio-luminescence than what currently exists on earth...it's almost exclusively Chemiluminescence (IE a chemical reaction is responsible for the light). This would be a biological neon sign on a creature. $\endgroup$
    – Twelfth
    Aug 18, 2016 at 22:50
  • $\begingroup$ Helium,Neon,Argon,Xenon,Krypton,Radon and Ununoctium I don't know if there exist other similar elements, but they probably do and new synthetic ones can be created. $\endgroup$
    – Charon
    Aug 18, 2016 at 23:01

2 Answers 2


If your hypothetical organism is engaged with chemiluminescence involving gases would do something like the following.

Another gas phase reaction is the basis of nitric oxide detection in commercial analytic instruments applied to environmental air-quality testing. Ozone is combined with nitric oxide to form nitrogen dioxide in an activated state.

NO+O3 → NO2[◊]+ O2 

The activated NO2[◊] luminesces broadband visible to infrared light as it reverts to a lower energy state.

Now nitric oxide can be produced in living creatures, but ozone might difficult.

In mammals including humans, ·NO is an important cellular signaling molecule involved in many physiological and pathological processes

Ozone is formed from dioxygen by the action of ultraviolet light and also atmospheric electrical discharges, and is present in low concentrations throughout the Earth's atmosphere (stratosphere). In total, ozone makes up only 0.6 ppm of the atmosphere.

Ozone is a powerful oxidant (far more so than dioxygen) and has many industrial and consumer applications related to oxidation. This same high oxidising potential, however, causes ozone to damage mucous and respiratory tissues in animals, and also tissues in plants, above concentrations of about 100 ppb. This makes ozone a potent respiratory hazard and pollutant near ground level. However, the ozone layer (a portion of the stratosphere with a bigger concentration of ozone, from two to eight ppm) is beneficial, preventing damaging ultraviolet light from reaching the Earth's surface, to the benefit of both plants and animals.

While ozone does have problems for living organisms, it is produced physiologically.

Ozone, along with reactive forms of oxygen such as superoxide, singlet oxygen, hydrogen peroxide, and hypochlorite ions, is naturally produced by white blood cells and other biological systems (such as the roots of marigolds) as a means of destroying foreign bodies. Ozone reacts directly with organic double bonds. Also, when ozone breaks down to dioxygen it gives rise to oxygen free radicals, which are highly reactive and capable of damaging many organic molecules. Moreover, it is believed that the powerful oxidizing properties of ozone may be a contributing factor of inflammation. The cause-and-effect relationship of how the ozone is created in the body and what it does is still under consideration and still subject to various interpretations, since other body chemical processes can trigger some of the same reactions

Your chemiluminescent signalling critter will need to produce nitric oxide and ozone and combine them in dermal cells to do its signalling. Ozone is a hazardous substance for live tissue and organs, so the critter will have to manage the ozone carefully. So provided you have a creature that can make sufficient nitric oxide and ozone, then it can send signals chemiluminescently.


I highly doubt it. But with minor changes, may be.

In practice, only noble gases can used to create light by putting electric current thorough them. Colors we got are either red / orange or blue to ultraviolet. The latter is obtained by using argon, krypton, or xenon and that's what you want in your bug. And a lot of it in atmosphere, so bugs can filter it.

UV is nice. It can excite many chemicals and made them glow. All these colorful neon lights you have seen? UV and luminophore. So just make your bug produce various luminophores. Or have them in "cells" that can be open or closed, similar to the way chameleon and some of the octopuses do. It will not change color of glowing gas, but will look close to what you're looking for.

  • $\begingroup$ So arthropods are good to go, but could chordate-like organisms use this technique with the same process? $\endgroup$
    – Twig
    Aug 18, 2016 at 23:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Twig if they can create stiff container for gas? Sure. Easier if you already have exoskeleton. Remember you need low pressure for this to work. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Aug 18, 2016 at 23:29

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