Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Strange Beasts: Glowworms

We had entered a tunnel system and had spend some time exploring it when we suddenly found ourselves under starry skies. It was a beautiful sight and we were glad for the breath of fresh air...waaait a moment, it was morning when we entered the tunnels and we've only been here a couple of hours. Oh, I think it's raining, did anyone else feel that?
Um, guys, I think I have a problem here, I'm stuck to some...whoa!

Aaaand that's when the intrepid explorer is hoisted up into the air, having touched one of the beautiful lights by accident (or maybe on purpose).

Glowworms
photo by ccheviron

Cave Glowworms (Arachnocampa luminosa) are native to New Zealand and live in, you guessed it, caves. They are the larvae of four different fungus gnat species. The larvae cling to the ceiling and produce a sticky lure, like pearls on a string. The glow is produced in the worm itself by a chemical reaction, the wonderfully named Luciferin is involved.

Glow Worm Strands in Cave Ceiling
photo by murdocke23

One single larvae will produce between thirty and seventy lures and when something gets caught up in them, it will pull up the lure quickly. A lure can reach a length of forty centimetres and it takes the larvae only three minutes to completely pull it up. Here's a photo of the actual larva. They prey on insects who will fly towards the light of the lure and on pretty much anything else that becomes entangled and is small enough to manage.

So let's make them a bit bigger and quicker. They are sensitive to light, I'd say that bringing torches near them would scare them away. The lures are really sticky and a struggling adventurer can easily become entangled in several of them. Even when nothing happens, finding out that the shiny lights are something dangerous could be great for setting the mood.

Here's a video from BBC's Planet Earth series, David Attenborough narrating.

One of these days I might make a Strange Beast post without featuring Attenborough, but he has filmed it all and his stuff is simply brilliant.

Sources and further reading:
The Artful Amoeba
Soilbugs (scroll down for the glowworms)
Wikipedia

Strange Beasts List

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