For decades people have looked to the skies for signs of alien life. But it turns out that it has been in our midst all along, in places almost as otherworldly to most of us: the light-starved zones underground and at the bottoms of oceans, rivers, and lakes.
“Most people don’t realize just how many habitable places there are on Earth with little or no light,” biologist and wildlife photographer Danté Fenolio writes in his new book, Life in the Dark: Illuminating Biodiversity in the Shadowy Haunts of Planet Earth. Styled as a naturalist’s guide, the book combines accomplished photography and accessible, well-referenced writing to introduce dozens of creatures that have evolved to thrive in these environments.
Some survive by supplying their own light—take the translucent deep-sea dragonfish, which lures prey by wiggling a bioluminescent blob attached to the end of a long, skinny rod that juts off its giant and toothy lower jaw. This fish attracts potential mates with “glowing spots and organs” on its body that, Fenolio writes, make it look “something like a Dr. Seuss character blended with a Christmas tree.”
Others are blind, like the pallid, eyeless phantom cave crayfish, which relies on its extra long legs and antennae to touch and feel its way around its subterranean world.
Fenolio is fascinated with the diverse adaptations these animals have made to survive without sunlight. He also wants to be sure readers know that many of the living things in the dark are being threatened by the same forces driving extinctions of animals and plants in the light: pollution, overharvesting, and loss of their habitats.
“My hope is that these images will lead you to question what you know of nature and how you feel about the state of the environment,” he writes. “Ask yourself how you want your children’s and your grandchildren’s life experience with the natural world to be...and consider supporting any environmental movement with which you connect.”