Bioluminescent Aquarium Fish

Bioluminescent Aquarium Fish

Bioluminescence in fish is the presence of symbiotic bacteria that make the fish appear to glow in the dark. There are a few bioluminescent fish that can be bought for aquarium hobbyists, however, most bioluminescent fish live in the deep ocean and are not suitable for aquarium life.

In this article, you will learn whether or not you can put bioluminescent algae in a fish tank as well as which aquarium fish glows in the dark. Additionally, we will cover whether or not bioluminescence is harmful to fish and where you can find bioluminescent fish.

Can You Put Bioluminescent Algae in a Fish Tank?

Unfortunately, free floating bioluminescent plankton would not survive in a fish tank because of the filtration system. The plankton would quickly be filtered out of the water and there would be no glow in your tank. The bioluminescent algae that you see in the ocean and in the surf at the beach are free floating dinoflagellates that light up on contact at night.

Even if you found a way around the filtration system to house bioluminescent algae in your fish tank, there is no guarantee that they wouldn’t last more than a day due to the hungry inhabitants of your tank. Many saltwater creatures such as small fish, anemones, coral, and other invertebrates prey on plankton.

An entire free floating colony of glow in the dark algae that is bound by the walls of the aquarium would be easy pickings for your other aquarium inhabitants. Whether by fish or by filter, your lovely bioluminescent algal colony may not last long enough for you to enjoy them.

While you can’t put bioluminescent algae in your fish tank, there are special orbs that you can purchase with colonies of bioluminescent algae that you can set beside your fish tank. If you give the orb a gentle shake, the algae will glow. They can thrive in that environment since there are no filters or predators to threaten them.

Which Aquarium Fish Glows in the Dark?

There aren’t many bioluminescent fish in the aquarium trade, but there are a few. You can purchase pinecone fish that have bioluminescent bacteria near their jaws which light up at night. There are also genetically modified aquarium fish such as danios, betta, angelfish, tetras, and barbs made to glow in the dark.

These glo-fish are not bioluminescent, rather they are fluorescent. Instead of hosting symbiotic bacteria, their genes have been modified so that parts of their body or their entire body glows under black light. Glo-fish fluoresce in all different colors including blue, green, pink, orange, and yellow.

Some other fish are naturally fluorescent such as neon tetras with their bright blue stripes that catch the black light perfectly.

Alternatively, there are true bioluminescent fish that are housed in public aquariums for everyone to visit and enjoy. Lanternfish, flashlight fish, and even some angler fish can be found in various aquarium facilities across the country.

Is Bioluminescence Harmful to Fish?

Bioluminescence is not harmful to fish. It is the result of a symbiotic relationship between the fish and light producing bacteria. This relationship is mutually beneficial as the bacteria are provided a home and nutrients while the fish is often provided with a way to camouflage and communicate.

Bioluminescence helps fish in so many different ways. Some fish use bioluminescence to hide from predators or trick bigger into thinking they are not a food source. Other fish use bioluminescence to communicate with conspecifics. They can flash their lights in a certain pattern to attract a mate, warn others of predators nearby, or signal that there’s food in the area.

Some fish use their bioluminescence as a ruse to lure in unsuspecting prey for an easy meal. In that case, bioluminescence would be harmful to the unsuspecting prey! Overall, the bacteria that provide the illumination for the fish do not harm their host fish or make them sick. It is a mutually beneficial relationship that has successfully evolved for a variety of species.

Where Can You Find Bioluminescent Fish?

If you are looking for bioluminescent fish for your aquarium, your options are slim. Exotic pet and fish stores may have some species such as the pinecone fish, but they will be hard to find and are usually not easy to care for.

One of the main reasons why bioluminescent fish do not make for good aquarium fish is that they live in the deep ocean. Fish that have adapted to the dark waters where sunlight does not penetrate have developed this unique ability to provide their own light. One of the caveats of living so far down though is the extreme pressure these fish experience.

Most bioluminescent fish are used to pressures far greater than those found at the surface. As a result, they cannot survive at the surface because their bodies collapse under the weight of the newfound pressure. This is why bioluminescent fish do not make good aquarium fish because they may not be able to survive at all.


Bioluminescent fish are one of nature’s amazing sights to behold. Unfortunately, they don’t do well when kept behind the glass of an aquarium. While there are a few bioluminescent fish species that can be kept as aquarium pets such as the pinecone fish, most are not suited to life in a tank.

Most bioluminescent fish are found in the depths of the ocean where the pressure is far different from the pressure near the surface. These fish are not built to survive at surface pressures let alone bounded by four glass walls.

However, if you are looking for some glow in the dark fish, they are options other than bioluminescent fish. Genetically modified fluorescent fish can make a great addition to any aquarium with a wide variety of species glowing in all the colors of the rainbow. You can also accent your tank with a separate orb of bioluminescent algae.

However you choose to glow, there are a variety of options even if bioluminescent fish isn’t a viable one.