Known by doctors but not so much by lay-people is the fact that after several days of decomposition, a human body will often glow. In medical circles, this is called postmortem luminescence. I can only say that this has got to be a missed opportunity when it comes to zombies in film. Whether it is used to help survivors detect on-coming undead in the dark, or just to add an additional creep-factor, I think it’s something that needs to find its way into film.
It’s important to note that it is not actually the zombie that’s glowing, but bacteria that grows on the dead body, which is why not all zombies would glow. But considering the conditions of a zombie apocalypse, my guess is most would.
Some of the first accounts of this phenomenon were recorded during the American Civil War. Due to horribly unsanitary conditions on the battlefields, wounded soldiers, waiting days for medical help would find their wounds badly infected. With their already compromised immune systems, bacteria would literally have a field day. At night, many of the soldiers noticed something very peculiar: their wounds were glowing. Stranger yet, it was noticed that many of the soldiers who did make it to field hospitals with glowing wounds, actually did better health-wise than those that had wounds that didn’t glow. The glow acquired the name “Angel’s Glow” because of this fact. It is believed that the bacteria that caused the glowing actually produced an antibiotic.
It is important to note that this bacteria can not survive on a human at body temperature. This might cause problems for the theory, except for the fact that most reports of this glowing phenomenon occur during the very cold months of the year. Also, there were reports of dead soldiers (with no body temperature) glowing on the battlefield.
As mentioned earlier, the medical community is well versed in the phenomenon of glowing corpses (postmortem luminescence). Literature mentions several bacteria that could produce this effect: Photobacterium fischeri, Luminescent fungi, Armillaria mellea.
So let’s recap.
- Dead bodies often glow in the dark.
- This is due to bacteria and fungi that grow on the dead body, and which will NOT grow on bodies at body temperature.
- This bacteria can produce effects akin to antibiotics.
Is it possible that the antibiotic effect that would make a zombie glow would also keep its flesh healthier longer, answering that age-old question, why don’t zombies start falling apart after a week or so? Is it possible that a super-strain of that very same bacteria could actually reanimate the flesh of the dead, bringing on the apocalypse?
Wanna really spoil your lunch? Check out “Decomposition of Human Body” where much of the medical information in this article can be found. Not for the faint of heart.