05 May

This Worm Is Not a Toy

In 1982, Hasbro released a plush, pajama wearing toy. When the body was pressed, its head would light up. You might have had a green body Glo Worm when you were young. If so, you’re not alone. Kids went crazy over the newest nightlight and sales were high. Outside the comfort of your home lives a real glowworm. If you come across the living version, you’re not going to want to snuggle with it.

Live action glowworms

If you’re ever in New Zealand and visit Waitomo Glowworm Caves, look up and you will see hundreds of soft glowing lights staring back at you. You will be looking at the real life glowworm, Arachnocampa luminosa. Arachno means “spider like” and there is a reason. Flip on your flashlight and take a closer look. You’ll notice hundreds of small web-like strings hanging from the ceiling. Each one of the strands is covered with sticky dewdrops. It might look pretty; but the webs belong to a skilled predator. Each Arachnocampa larva will hang at least 70 of these web strands around its nest. The drops of dew are sticky, and the glow from the worm attracts bugs. When an unsuspecting insect flies too close, it gets snagged in the threads. Much like a fisherman, the larva pulls up the latest catch and devours it.

If you’re still thinking of taking it home to replace that long lost toy, think again. This worm is not a toy. In some species of Arachnocampa those drops of dew aren’t just sticky, they are poisonous. If you’re a soft bodied glowworm, the last thing you want to do is fight with your dinner. The poison kills the prey so the glowworm can eat in peace.

Deep dark caves

There is a reason that you will only find glowworms in caves. They don’t like wind. Even the slightest breeze would cause all those hanging snares to get tangled up. Not all caves are suitable. You will only find Arachnocampa luminosa in moist caves with a nearby source of water. Without an abundance of humid air, the glowworm would dry up. A close proximity to water also means there are going to be a lot of flying insects. Mosquitoes, mayflies, and moths make up most of the glowworms diet, yet it will also eat snails and slugs if they venture close. If things get reallly bad, the larger Arachnocampa larva will leave the protection of its nest, crawl across the ceiling to seek out its neighbors and then cannibalize them.

Glow Worms

Two days to do your business

After nine months, Arachnocampa luminosa is ready to give up the larval life. It becomes a pupa and after a few weeks, a large mosquito looking insect emerges. Adult glowworms don’t have mouths and can’t eat. They have two days to find a mate, lay eggs and start the entire process all over again.

Next time you think of that glowing toy you had as a kid, you might want to rethink the idea of snuggling with it. Real glowworms are not toys.

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