Glowworms Turn Caves Into Natural Starscapes

Glowworms Turn Caves Into Natural Starscapes

Stunning, enchanting, and ethereal aren’t adjectives you’d usually find being used for worms or bugs. But when you get a chance to see the “glowing grubs” lighting up New Zealand’s underwater caves, you just might be inclined to concur with wondrous awe.

These magnificent incandescent creatures are actually New Zealand glowworms, or Arachnocampa luminosa, and they fill New Zealand’s abandoned mines, cave walls and ceilings. They are bioluminiscent in their larval form, and cast their eerie, smoldering light as they cling to the damp surfaces.

The carnivorous larva, after hatching, spin silk nests, letting the soft glowing light of their makeshift starscape lure prey such as mosquitoes, moths, and mayflies in. This bioluminiscence doesn’t end after this stage, though, as the creatures maintain their glow all throughout the pupa and adult stages, where the light then functions to potentially attract mates.  

Avid traveler and photographer Joseph Michael, thoroughly enchanted by these glowworms, visited, hiked into, crawled and wriggled through tight spaces of four caves just to capture stunning photographs of these glowworms right in the act. Granted, two of these caves, such as Ruakuri cave, which offers daily tours throughout the week except on Christmas holiday, and the Nikau cave, which features its own cafe, are popular tourist attractions — but other than that, Michael constantly had to get his feet wet, literally, and for hours on end, just to get his fix.
The photos are fantastic, of course, but according to the photographer’s own words: “the camera enhances the experience with the long exposure, but seeing the worms with the naked eye is just as magical.”

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