• We have updated the guidelines regarding posting political content: please see the stickied thread on Website Issues.


Gone But Not Forgotten
Aug 18, 2002
I haven't been able to find a thread on this but as min is 3 letters..........

Dung it all: Owls, bats aglow in sky

Apr. 29, 2004 12:00 AM

Did you know you can buy owl poop on the Internet? I guess it's for kids to dissect in biology class and find the little bones and fur and stuff from whatever the owl was eating. That would be pretty cool.

I came across that while I was looking up something else as a follow-up to the column the other day about the guy who was seeing strange lights flitting about the desert at night. I opined that it was some sort of bird gleaming in the moonlight.

So anyway, a whole bunch of you called or wrote to tell me it was bats, and if I wasn't such a chowderhead, I would have known that.

Well, I had considered the bat thing but decided they are too dark to do much gleaming in the moonlight.

However, some guy from Australia sent me a long article by somebody named F.F. Silcock about "min min" lights, which is what the English call the will-o'-the-wisp and what we call strange lights flitting around at night.

This turned out to be fairly interesting because Silcock's theory is that the lights are really luminescent barn owls.

Now, I have to admit that I have kind of let my barn owl studies lapse over the years, but apparently the idea that they are luminescent is fairly well established. The question is how they get to be that way.

The most common theory is that they are infested with a certain kind of luminescent fungus that grows in dead or rotting wood and that the owl picks up this glowing stuff sitting around in old trees.

Silcock, however, doesn't like the fungus idea and has gotten it in his head that barn owls might be naturally bioluminescent.

In other words, they can light themselves up like some fish can.

He thinks it might be possible that barn owls have some organ or secrete some substance that makes them glow and that they can turn it on or turn it off at will.

He also suggests they use the light as a hunting strategy to blind or confuse their prey.

Now bear in mind, I didn't say any of this is true. I just said it was interesting. Frankly, it sounds a little nutty, if you ask me, and Silcock doesn't seem to be dissuaded by the fact there are no known cases of bioluminescence in birds.

Still, who knows?

Stranger things have happened. My annual job review, for instance. It's usually pretty bizarre, although it has never made me glow in the dark.

Link is dead. No archived version found.

More details on the book:



Last edited by a moderator:
'the author [...] puts forward the case for these birds possessing dermal organs of luminescence similar to those found in many animals capable of making light.'

The problem with that theory is that lights are reportedly rather bright, whereas the supposed glow from fungally infested owls would not be so strong - IMHO. Such things tend to cast a more diffuse light. The fungus would have to be glowing very brightly to be seen from a distance, and so one wonders how much this interferes with the owl's night vision ;) So all in all this theory sounds like another shot in the dark, if you pardon the pun.
My (now ex) boyfriend told me about the time he was driving through the Northern Territory and parked his car a fair distance from anywhere to sleep 'cause he was too tired to keep driving. He was asleep in the back seat when he woke and saw bright lights around him and then the car started apparently all by itself.

His description of the lights sounds like min min lights. If they were what he saw it makes me think they must be some kind of electrical phenomenon to have started the car.

Needless to say, at the time he nearly pissed himself, leapt into the front seat of the car and drove like mad to the nearest town and spent the night sleeping on a chair in a roadside all night cafe.
The Min Min lights are back...

Woman hopes photo sheds light on outback mystery
A Western Australian woman says she is confident that she has taken one of the first photographs of a Min Min light in outback Queensland.

The small, bright, dancing light is one of Australia's oldest natural mysteries.

Janet Burgin took the photo when she was in Boulia last year and has since had it tested.

She says experts are baffled and she thinks it is a Min Min light.

"There has to be some truth in it," she said.

"There's too many unexplained sightings by too many people for there not to be something in it. It's a phenomena that no-one can explain."

Meanwhile, Professor Jack Pettigrew, of the University of Queensland in Brisbane claims the lights are actually an inverted mirage of light sources which are, in some cases, hundreds of kilometres away over the horizon.

His work was published last year in the current issue of Clinical and Experimental Optometry.

Professor Pettigrew studied the phenomenon in western Queensland where he said it has been disturbing the locals for many years.
Last Update: Thursday, July 22, 2004. 8:32am (AEST)

Link is dead. The original webpage can be accessed via the Wayback Machine:


Seen 'em myself. Will try to track down the alleged photo an post later...
Last edited by a moderator:
Taking a shot at the Min Min Light

Thursday, 14 July 2005

Reporter: Julia Harris (online)

Presenter: Andrew Saunders

Herda Szijarto has been delivering mail to remote stations in the Boulia district for 25 years, travelling the 470km round trip each Wednesday and Saturday.

This district is also home to the mysterious phenomenon of the Min Min light, and Mrs Szijarto has spotted the Min Min may times in her travels through the outback.

She says she first saw it out near an old windmill in an area called Bulla Woolla late in 1978. "I saw a big round ball, a beautiful orange colour - trees standing there and he came straight through, and of course not knowing what it was, I got sort of scared".

At this stage Mrs Szijarto hadn't heard about the Min Min lights and kept very quiet about her experience.

During the many years of driving the mail run in the outback around Boulia after that initial experience she says she has seen the Min Min light heaps of times.

One experience she will never forget was the time she was delivering fuel and was out on the Chatswood road. A friend had suggested she take a gun in case she hit a cow and she says "this Min Min light was coming fairly close and I said right, I couldn't take photos of you, I'm gonna shoot ya, and I know I shot it because it was so big and I couldn't possibly miss it, and all it did was go away as if to say 'well you're a lousy shot.'"

Mrs Szijarto is originally from Austria and she immigrated to Australia with her Hungarian husband who was a refugee, and then moved to Boulia from Mount Isa in 1978. She started the mail run in 1980 and retired on the 30th June this year. She hasn't been looking forward to retirement because she says "the mail run is an interesting job, you get to meet lots and lots of good friends, and it's a day out for us".

Listen to Herda Szijarto as she tells Andrew Saunders and Danny Kennedy about her experiences with the Min Min Light

( Audio in RealMedia format ) | Requires RealPlayer


Related Links:
Some of these links may be to sites outside the ABC and as such the ABC has no editorial control over such sites.

Min Min Encounter - Boulia
Link is dead.
Last edited by a moderator:
Luminous owls is a ridiculous theory from an evolutionary point of view.
Any owl with a tendency to glow (for whatever reason) would be more likely to frighten off its prey before capture, so such owls would be less likely to survive and breed.

An owl that is bright to us would seem even brighter to nocturnal prey animals.
Luminous owls is a ridiculous theory from an evolutionary point of view.
Any owl with a tendency to glow (for whatever reason) would be more likely to frighten off its prey before capture, so such owls would be less likely to survive and breed.

While i don't know of any bird never mind Owl that exhibits any sort of luminesance, it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing from an evolutionary point of view especially for insect eating owls (borrowing owls, little owls). Every one knows moths are attrachted to light so some sort of luminesance may be of benefit. Though rynner i do agree with you that it is a ridiculous theory only because there is no example of luminous owls in the natural world.
I think there is a particular area around the Queensland border that is meant to be a hot spot for min min lights...

My father claimed to have seen a min min light in that general vicinity many years ago. He said it followed him for miles , and definitely wasn't a motorbike or anything similar.

Also, this reminded me of something that I saw some years ago..

I used to have a horse and kept her in a paddock near my house. The paddock was on a hill, behind which there were no houses, street lamps etc for quite a way...just bush.

So one night I was up there feeding my horse, and I looked up the hill and saw lights moving around. No roads up there, so couldn't have been a car (the bush is far too dense anyway), and I find it hard to believe that it was people up there walking about with torches, although it's a possiblity. I find it highly unlikely though as it's private property and quite inaccessible.

Anyway, I just shrugged it off... but then I happened to have a friend visiting, an aboriginal lady who grew up in the general area. She told me that the hill in question had meaning for aboriginal people, it was apparently a place to be avoided, as there were spirits there, who, whilst not being evil, would cause problems and play tricks.

I did have many problems with my horse in that paddock, but my horse was a bit on the mental side so it may just ahve been that she was accident prone.

However the thing about the lights makes me wonder, as I seem to recall hearing about aboriginal traditions regarding the min min light phenomenon. I'll see if I can find a link or something.

Interesting post!

I first heard about Min Min Lights back in early 80's. I was researching 'earth lights' in general after having had encounters here in England. They are the strangest thing. Sometimes they seem intelligent and just doing their own thing.

I'm not sure what they are,but the whole thing is fascinating!

JerryB said:
The problem with that theory is that lights are reportedly rather bright, whereas the supposed glow from fungally infested owls would not be so strong - IMHO. Such things tend to cast a more diffuse light. The fungus would have to be glowing very brightly to be seen from a distance, and so one wonders how much this interferes with the owl's night vision ;) So all in all this theory sounds like another shot in the dark, if you pardon the pun.
If there is very little other light around the glow from luminescent fungi can be quite bright. During the first World War soldiers placed small pieces of luminescent wood in their hat bands so they could see each other in the trenches - presumably they removed them when there was any risk of being shot - just aim below the glow!
In the second World War wood yards in the Docklands area of London were covered with tarpaulins to make sure German bombers did not see the light and take aim on it. Whether this was a knee jerk precaution or a response to an actual incident I'm afraid I don't know.
Min Min is an Aboriginal term, I think, indicating the Australian Aborigines were familiar with them long before white men began reporting their experiences.

About 15 years ago, my brother and a mate were driving through Queensland bush at night and initially believed the light behind them was another car's headlights. It gained on them swiftly, at which point they realised it was one light, which they believed must be from a motor-bike. But after gaining on them fairly swiftly in a short space of time, it failed to overtake as expected. After several miles of having the light behind them, they were fairly fed-up. So my brother put his foot down, intending to leave the motor-bike far behind. But the motor-bike kept pace, although it still did not attempt to overtake. By this stage, my brother and his mate were of the opinion that someone was deliberately trying to annoy them. My brother turned the car around and headed toward the light he believed was a motor bike. As he approached it however, he realised the light was too far above the road to be a vehicle. Nevertheless, he charged towards it less than rationally; undoubtedly after half an hour of the cat-and-mouse game, emotions in the car were a little heightened. People have been robbed and even murdered in that area and fear and anxiety often emerge as bravado.

When my brother's car was a few hundred metres from the illogically placed light, it rose in the air and passed above the car ! Things had now reached a phase of high strangeness, but my brother again turned the car around and chased the light, intending to give it some of its own medicine. He and his mate chose to believe that the light had *not* passed over their heads, but had instead only appeared to do so, due to trick driving by a motor-bike rider who was very familiar with the road.

My brother was pushing his car to considerable speed but could not catch the light he believed must be a motor bike. Then, suddenly, the light left the path of the road and took off at right angles and up a grassed slope leading to bushland. At that point, the men in the car decided it was all too weird and headed off at speed towards the next town. Twenty miles out from the town, the light again appeared behind them. My brother had a gun and wanted to stop and take some pot shots at the light, but his mate, who had grown up in Papua New Guinea and seen several inexplicable and frighening things there, argued vehemently that they should not stop. The men argued quite heatedly in the swiftly moving car, but did not stop until they reached the next small town. They headed straight to the pub and over a beer, agreed that none of it could have happened. In fact, they reached the conclusion (how, I'll never know) that the light must have been on the top of a large truck and that all the rest must have been caused by 'air inversion' or something.

While they were ironing out the finer details of this nonsense, the pub-owner quietly interrupted and informed them that they'd simply experienced the Min Min lights, which were well-known in the area and famous for spooking travellers. My brother and his mate just had to chalk it up to experience.
A very believable explanation is here. It's a great article:

Link is dead. See later post for alternate access to this article.

The Min Min light and the Fata Morgana
An optical account of a mysterious Australian phenomenon

Background: Despite intense interest in this mysterious Australian phenomenon, the Min Min light has never been explained in a satisfactory way.

Methods and Results: An optical explanation of the Min Min light phenomenon is offered, based on a number of direct observations of the phenomenon, as well as a field demonstration, in the Channel Country of Western Queensland. This explanation is based on the inverted mirage or Fata Morgana, where light is refracted long distances over the horizon by the refractive index gradient that occurs in the layers of air during a temperature inversion. Both natural and man-made light sources can be involved, with the isolated light source making it difficult to recognise the features of the Fata Morgana that are obvious in daylight and with its unsuspected great distance contributing to the mystery of its origins.

Conclusion: Many of the strange properties of the Min Min light are explicable in terms of the unusual optical conditions of the Fata Morgana, if account is also taken of the human factors that operate under these highly-reduced stimulus conditions involving a single isolated light source without reference landmarks.
Last edited by a moderator:
Min Min Encounter - Boulia
Link is dead.

This may or may not be the content (or portion thereof) from this dead link.


There are a lot of bush yarns and legends in this Outback country, but the people of Boulia reckon the pick of the bunch are the ones about the mysterious Queensland icon, the Min Min Light. Here is a yarn about the Light they would like to share with you.

It was shortly after the Min Min Hotel was destroyed by fire around 1912, when a stockman had one of the first experiences with the Min Min Light: "About 10pm I was riding to Boulia and passed close to the Min Min graveyard. The night was somewhat cloudy. All of a sudden I saw a strange glow right in the middle of the cemetery. It got bigger until it was the size of a large watermelon. I couldn't believe my eyes as I watched it hovering over the graveyard. I broke into a cold sweat as it started coming toward me. It was too much for my nerves. I dug the spurs into my horse and headed for Boulia as fast as I could go. Every time I looked back the light seemed to be following me. It only disappeared out of Boulia".

SOURCE: https://www.queensland.com/en-us/destination-information/boulia
The Min Min Lights are well-known in Oz. I've never seen them. My father and uncle (both retired reverends) told of a pair of their parishioners who were drunk on a road in outback Queensland. The lights followed their vehicle and then hovered above it. They crawled under the car in fear and swore off alcohol right there. I've often seen distant vehicle headlights reflecting off of cloud at night in the outback. It can be quite impressive depending on what you may be smoking at the time.

2003 UofQ academic perspective
Recent news article
A new doco out in November