Luminescence in general, is the term of emission of light from specific substances/objects. Chemiluminescence is the emission of light due to chemical reactions. Bioluminescence on the other hand is the emission light from living/biological organisms such as insects ( this is of course the way I understood them ), but I'm a little bit confused because what is the cause that makes insects emmit light? Doesn't that also have to do with chemical reactions but inside living organisms ?

Just a clear explanation of the difference between these two terms would be helpful.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yeah, you're right. $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    Commented May 8, 2015 at 13:28
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Simply searching the title of your question into Google yields a multitude of sources that can explain the difference between the two, including this one. Try Google first before asking. $\endgroup$
    – ringo
    Commented May 8, 2015 at 13:39

1 Answer 1


Doesn't that also have to do with chemical reactions but inside living organisms?

Exactly! That's why there is one scientific society for both phenomena: ISBC - International Society for Bioluminescence and Chemiluminescence ;-)

The thermal reactions, that lead to an excited species which eventually emits a photon are quite similar. From a reactive compound, typically called a luciferine, a four-membered ring, often a dioxetanone is formed. This decarboxylates and gives rise to a molecule in an electronically excited state. In reality, the decarboxylation is often not just a spontaneous process but requires an activator. W. J. Baader at IQUSP in Sao Paulo, Brazil has examined that in great detail.

The luciferines can be quite different compounds, such as

  • diaryloxalates (these are used in glow sticks, where the diferent colours come from diferent fluorphores that absorb the initial photon and emit at different wavelength)
  • benzothiazole derivatives (firefly)
  • triazine derivatives (marine organisms)

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