Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Similarities Between Reindeer Bioluminescence and Insect Bioluminescence

My daughter's first science fair!  I'm so proud!!!


Our Lady of the Bleating Heart Elementary School
Third Grade Science Fair
December 15, 2006

Similarities Between Reindeer Bioluminescence and Insect Bioluminescence


My objective was to find out if the light emitted from some reindeers’ (Rangifer Tarandus, sometimes called Caribou) noses is caused by the same type of bioluminescence used by insects like glow worms (Arachnocampa flava) and fireflies (Lampyridae).

Question and Hypothesis:


Is the light source for a luminous reindeer’s nose similar to the light source in glow worms and fireflies?


My hypothesis is that light emitting reindeer noses use the same chemical reaction to produce light that glow worms and fireflies use.

Review of Literature:

Glow worms (not really worms at all, but larvae of one type of fly) give off light to attract insects so they can catch them and eat them. The light is blueish-greenish, and is a product of a chemical reaction between luciferin (a waste product), the enzyme luciferase, adenosine triphosphate (ATP, the energy molecule) and oxygen.

Fireflies also produce light by a chemical reaction between Luciferin (a substrate) combined with Luciferase (an enzyme), ATP (adenosine triphosphate) and oxygen.

Reindeer have specialized noses featuring nasal turbinate bones that dramatically increase the surface area within the nostrils. Incoming cold air is warmed by the animal's body heat before entering the lungs, and water is condensed from the expired air and captured before the deer's breath is exhaled, used to moisten dry incoming air and possibly absorbed into the blood through the mucous membranes.
See Wikipedia, Reindeer, (as of Dec. 14, 2006, 19:43 GMT). This could explain how reindeer get the oxygen needed for the chemical reaction between the luciferin, the luciferase, and the ATP.

I should mention that the Wikipedia Reindeer entry does not say anything about light emitting reindeer noses. [I tried to edit the Wiki to mention glowing reindeer noses, but my revisions keep getting deleted. I’m going to try again after the science fair.]

Even with that encyclopedia’s error, we know that some reindeer are capable of producing light with their noses, usually red in color. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Robert L. May, 1939.

Actions Taken and Procedure:

I visited two zoos because that’s the number my dad would drive me to. The first one, Jungle Louie’s, didn’t have any reindeer, but I got to speak to the Executive Director. His name is Louie Cognomi. He was very nice, but he didn’t have much information on reindeer with light up noses. I had several questions prepared about luciferin, luciferase, and adenosine triphosphate, but he seemed uncomfortable and kept looking at me funny, like Uncle Larry did that Thanksgiving when I had the huge piece of lettuce stuck between my teeth and nobody told me.

The Belcher County Zoo has two caribou (another name for reindeer) on loan from the Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board. I got to talk to their handler, Maggie Cervidae, who is a very mean person and I bet she has a rotten Christmas. She told me that there is no such thing as reindeer with a light up noses. She said that they are make believe, like unicorns and compassionate conservatives. My friend Susan Smith’s big brother Tommy is in high school, and he says that the whole reindeer with nose lights story is made up and started a really really long time ago, like the 1960s, with a children’s show that used some crummy animation, but that can’t be right because Mr. May wrote about a reindeer with a light in his nose way back in 1939.

My next door neighbor Mr. Kibble the accountant saw me crying right after I talked to Tommy, and he laughed and said maybe all the reindeer with red noses are in “AA.” I don’t know what that means. Mr. Kibble is creepy.


I don’t know what is going on, but somebody is full of sh*t. Mom and dad won’t talk to me about it, and I can’t find any photographs of reindeer with glowing noses on google images. I think maybe the government is trying to hide the fact that reindeer with bioluminescent noses exist. That seems more likely to be true than what Ms. Cervidae and Tommy told me. I intend to get to the bottom of this.


My hypothesis was that light emitting reindeer noses use the same chemical reaction to produce light that glow worms and fireflies use. My results do not support my hypothesis. More research is required.


I would like to thank my teacher, Sister M. Elephant, and my father who drove me to the zoos.

Your obedient servant,
B. Freret


Boski93 said...

Your daughter is right. There are some shenanigans afoot!

Well I have to go, I have to go and hang out in front of the drug store. One day I hope to get a job keeping people from hanging out in front of the drug store.

Your Humble Reader

Boski93 said...

It has been 3 months, since we last heard from you Mr. Freret. I am thinking that bird of prey, MC Hawk, may have done a drive-by.

Boski93 said...


Your Humble Reader

judith said...

I was searching online for info related to fireflies and glow worms to spice up science studies for my homeschooled daughter.

I was absolutely delighted to come across your science fair project!

My daughter may feel she is 'too old' for such 'unscientific beliefs' anymore (alas despite years of hearing the Hobbit read aloud at bedtime the 'real world' seems to be swaying her astray from 'fairy tales' - I have recently introduced her to John Eldridge's Wild at Heart and am trying to find my copy of Bruno Bettleheim's The Uses of Enchantment...) but I will tuck this little treasure away for future grandchildren.