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Tomopteris is a cosmopolitan genus of polychaetes. Many species produce yellow luminescence in the parapodia when stimulated. Yellow bioluminescence is rare in the ocean, and the components of this luminescent reaction have not been identified. Only a brief description, half a century ago, noted fluorescence in the parapodia with a remarkably similar spectrum to the bioluminescence, which suggested that it may be the luciferin or terminal light-emitter. Here, we report the isolation of the fluorescent yellow–orange pigment found in the luminous exudate and in the body of the animals. Liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry revealed the mass to be 270 m/z with a molecular formula of C15H10O5, which ultimately was shown to be aloe-emodin, an anthraquinone previously found in plants. We speculate that aloe-emodin could be a factor for resonant-energy transfer or the oxyluciferin for Tomopteris bioluminescence. © 2014 The Authors. Luminescence published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.