By Michael Baadke
In the depths of the ocean and in the gloom of night there are living creatures great and small that glow in the dark.
A new set of 10 forever stamps from the United States Postal Service pays tribute to bioluminescent life: animals and plants that emit light when the environment around them is dark.
The animals shown on the stamps range from a single firefly to a formidable deep-sea octopus, while land-based flora are represented by a small cluster of mushrooms radiating a ghostly green light.
The nondenominated (50¢) Bioluminescent Life forever stamps are being issued in a pane of 20 on Feb. 22.
The first-day ceremony is scheduled for 11 a.m. at Sunrise Theatre, 117 S. Second St., Fort Pierce, Fla.
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The event is free and open to the public, but the Postal Service recommends making advance reservations.
Edith Widder, an ocean research scientist who contributed seven of the images that appear on the new stamps, is participating in the ceremony, which also features USPS Chief Human Resources Officer and Executive Vice President Jeffrey C. Williamson.
Widder is CEO and senior scientist of the Ocean Research and Conservation Association that she founded in 2005.
A specialist in bioluminescence, Widder has designed submersible instrumentation and a remotely operated deep-sea camera system, according to the association’s website.
From top left to bottom right, the 10 new stamps picture (with the photographer’s name following): the deep-ocean octopus (Widder), midwater jellyfish (Widder), deep-sea comb jellyfish (Widder), mushroom (Taylor F. Lockwood), firefly (Gail Shumway), bamboo coral (Widder), marine worm (Widder), crown jellyfish (Widder), a second type of marine worm (Steve Haddock), and a sea pen (Widder).
Each stamp includes a black background behind the bioluminescent life form. The pane selvage includes additional images, showing a transparent deep-sea comb jelly photographed by Gregory G. Dimijian, and the firefly squid photographed by Dante Fenolio.
USPS art director Derry Noyes designed the stamps and selvage.
The pane selvage and the individual stamps each include the inscription “Bioluminescent Life” in white, but the stamps themselves do not identify the subject pictured.
Asked by Linn’s Stamp News if the stamps were manufactured so that they would glow in the dark, Postal Service representatives declined to comment.
Technical details for these stamps also were not released by the Postal Service before this issue of Linn’s went to press.
“Bioluminescence — the ability of some living things to generate their own light — occurs on many branches of the tree of life,” the Postal Service said.
“Bioluminescence among land-based species is relatively rare, but in the darkness of the deep ocean, where little or no sunlight penetrates, the phenomenon reigns supreme. Bioluminescent creatures use light to lure food, find mates, or to fend off predators.”
In 2017, Haddock, a senior scientist at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California, reported (with Severine Martini) that “three quarters of deep-sea animals make their own light.”
The Postal Service notes that the genetic study of bioluminescence has aided research in fighting cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, anemia, malaria, HIV and other diseases.
Although this is the first U.S. stamp issue that specifically highlights bioluminescent plants and animals, other stamps have pictured underwater animals known to emit light.
The Deep Sea Creatures set of five 33¢ stamps issued Oct. 2, 2000, includes one stamp picturing the fanfin anglerfish (Scott 3439) and another showing the medusa jellyfish (3443). Both of these undersea dwellers have body parts that emit light.
Two first-day cancels for the new Bioluminescent Life stamps have pictorial elements.
A black postmark includes boxed text with the words “Bioluminescent Life” and “First day of issue,” along with a drawing of a jellyfish with long trailing tendrils.
The black postmark is used to postmark the majority of submitted collector-prepared covers.
A digital color first-day postmark, featured on certain first-day covers prepared and sold by the Postal Service, has elements of black and yellow, and shows a small swarm of fireflies emitting light.
If requested, the Postal Service will apply the color postmark to certain types of customer-submitted envelopes, at a cost of 50¢ per envelope, with a minimum of 10 plus two test envelopes. Full details for requesting color postmarks are published in the USPS Postal Bulletin.
Beginning with this new issue, the Postal Service has extended its grace period for requesting first-day cancels to 120 days.
Additional details about the Bioluminescent Life stamps, including technical specifications, will be published when the Postal Service reveals the information.