Three Floridians will have photos featured on a new series of stamps that celebrate the magic of bioluminescence from the color spasms of a deep ocean sea pen to the lime green glow of a rainforest mushroom.
The stamps, which will be released for sale Thursday, were produced using a holographic material that is highly reflective of white light to “impart a sense of movement,” according to the U.S. Postal Service.
Ten different images will be displayed on sheets of 20 stamps with seven photos taken by Fort Pierce resident and ocean researcher Edith Widder.
“For me, it’s just thrilling to get bioluminescence raised to this kind of awareness level,” said Widder, a former Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute scientist and founder of the Fort Pierce-based Ocean Research and Conservation Association. “Bioluminescence suffers from its name, which is hard to say and hard to spell.”
Widder will speak at 11 a.m. Thursday at the Sunrise Theater in Fort Pierce during an event to recognize the stamps’ first day of issue. U.S. Postal Service Executive Vice President Jeffrey Williamson will also attend the event.
“The thrilling part about these stamps is just letting people know about this wonderful thing happening in the ocean,” Widder said.
While most bioluminescence creatures live in the ocean, the stamps also feature images of terrestrial living light.
The mycena lucentipes, is a glow-in-the-dark mushroom that Mount Dora resident Taylor Lockwood photographed during a dark hike in the rainforests of southern Brazil. Lockwood has an established following of fungi lovers, who enjoy his photographs of all types of mushrooms.
But about a decade ago, he started hunting for the rare few that are bioluminescent.
“It’s like the mushrooms said to me, ‘Taylor, we want you to do this,’” Lockwood said about his mushroom obsession. “I realized I had a calling.”
Bioluminescence is the production of light by a living organism through a chemical reaction. It is done to attract mates, ward off predators or signal distress. In the case of the glowing mushroom, one theory is that it attracts insects, that can help spread the mushroom spores.
“It’s really addictive to go all over the world and hunt for these mushrooms in the dark,” Lockwood said. “It’s scary sometimes, but always interesting.”
Also featured is the firefly – a more common, but still remarkable example of bioluminescence. The firefly photo was taken by Sarasota-based wildlife photographer Gail Shumway.
The unusual tweak to the bioluminescent stamps that gives them an appearance of movement, follows the release last year of the first-ever heat sensitive stamp issued by the postal service to commemorate the Aug. 17 total solar eclipse.
The eclipse stamp turned from a black totally-eclipsed sun to an image of the full moon when touched.
A spokesman for the postal service couldn’t say Monday if the bioluminescent stamp is the first time the hologram technology has been used.
But Alan Bush, a West Palm Beach philatelist who buys stamp collections, said he believes it is unique for a U.S. stamp.
“It is the right technology for this subject matter,” Bush said.
And like the eclipse stamp, he said the bioluminescent stamps are another example of the post office trying to go beyond the traditional flags and flowers.
“The days of nothing but dead presidents are clearly in the rearview mirror,” Bush said. “I think this stamp goes right to the line of glowing in the dark, but doesn’t cross it.”
The bioluminescent stamps are being issued as first-class Forever stamps.
Widder said the postal service approached her about the possibility of using some of her images for a stamp. She said she the service was most interested in the eye-catching images of ethereal beings from the deep.
But at least two have an incredible backstory.
Widder used two images she took of bioluminescent jellyfish to create an electronic lure in the hopes of attracting a giant squid. The pinwheel spin of bioluminescent light given off by the jellyfish is a distress signal, and while squids don’t eat the jellyfish, they may want to eat whatever is attacking the jellyfish.
The lure worked, and in 2012 Widder and a team of scientists were able to capture the first images of a giant squid in the deep sea.
“We’ve only explored about 5 percent of our oceans,” she said during a 2013 TED Talk about finding the giant squid. “There are discoveries yet to be made down there of fantastic creatures representing millions of years of evolution.”