With so much strife in the world, it’s a relief to know that scientists have solved one of nature’s great mysteries: the disco clam. The disco clam, Ctenoides ales, appears to flash lightning bolts within its mouth. Young scientist Lindsey Dougherty at Berkeley has figured out the mechanism of this light display. Note that her research on this project involved “high speed video, transmission electron microscopy, spectrometry, energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy and computer modeling.” Funded by the National Science Foundation, among several conservation organizations.
So how does it work? Not bioluminescence; that is, there is no biological light organ that emits its own light, like a firefly or the jellyfish Aequorea. Instead, the lip of the clam grows to form a narrow edge that scatters light–only from one side. The edge contains miniature balls of silica (glass) that efficiently reflect and scatter light. So as the lip moves the light appears to flash on and off, like the facets of a disco ball.
Does the clam use this flashing for anything useful? The next stage of research is to figure out if clams use the light signals to communicate. Great possibilities for science fiction.