"Creatures of Light" at the Field Museum | Exhibit Review

Kids definitely won’t feel afraid of the dark at the Field Museum’s newest interactive exhibit, “Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence.” In fact, they’ll love it, and everything else the dim theater-esque lighting enables them to see: an entire world that comes alive when there’s no light.  

Children and parents will marvel at the immersive environment the museum has created just off the main hall. They’re greeted by an enormous lightning bug, 210 times its normal size, with a backside that slowly brightens. Next to it, two spotlights pointed at matching plates on the wall simulate a female firefly’s flickering pattern and a male’s reaction to it. Clicking the flashlight when prompted elicits the light version of a “hubba hubba” from potential husbands. It’s the first in a series of interactive activities that will teach your kids the whys and hows of glowing flora and fauna without boring them. 

The exhibit is split into zones that highlight certain creatures. A New Zealand “cave” in one corner beckons kids to stick their heads inside a black egg to observe underwater glowworms. There’s also a footbridge that transports you to a Caribbean bay lit by bioluminescent organisms. Walk the area outlined on the floor and watch tiny radiant specks follow your footsteps like a cloud of ethereal gnats. 

Technology plays a role in the fun, too. Embedded iPads, which explain displays in more detail, are planted throughout the exhibit. There's also an interactive screen that allows kids to shine a spotlight on parts of the Cayman Islands’ coral-rich Bloody Bay Wall in the light or at night; while its point is to illustrate the difference the daylight makes, they'll get a thrill from finding turtles and snakes hidden in the darkness. 

Walking through the exhibit, it's easy to overhear excited kids pointing things out to each other. Though they may not be able to easily pronounce big words such as bioluminescence and biofluorescence, they'll learn a lot, in a way that engages them, about why fish, insects and fungi need their nightlights. In the deep ocean rooms, kids will likely recognize frightening fish—and perhaps disagree with the quote on the wall: “On every deep-sea haul, something interesting comes up … animals no one could have ever dreamed of.” All respect to the man who said that (Field Museum assistant curator of fishes Leo Smith), but kids know these fish from Finding Nemo—and they’ll run to check them out, preserved in jars, in the last room.

"Creatures of Light" runs through September 8 at The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive (312-922-9410, fieldmuseum.org). For more details about specific creatures and features in the exhibit, check out our preview.


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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)