Ancient New Zealand caves are filled with bioluminescent glowworms

Joseph Michael
© Joseph Michael

We may have watched films depicting magical, glowing landscapes on other (fictitious) planets that capture our imagination (the movie Avatar comes to mind here). But did you know there are similar, equally stunning places right here on Earth that offer real-life glowing goodness too?

Joseph Michael © Joseph Michael
Joseph Michael © Joseph Michael

One of these places is located right in New Zealand, where photographer Joseph Michael captured these fascinating photos of this glowing cave. The cave is actually covered with colonies of bioluminescent fungus gnats and their larvae, commonly called glowworms. Says the artist:

Arachnocampa luminosa is a species of glowworm endemic to the island nation of New Zealand. These long exposure photographs were captured in a number of limestone caves in the North Island. The 30 million year old formations form a majestic backdrop to the bioluminescence of the glowworms.

Joseph Michael © Joseph Michael
Joseph Michael © Joseph Michael

This strange species was first found in 1871 in a local gold mine, and was mistakenly thought to be related to Europe's glowworm beetle, before people realized that it was larvae they were looking at. Arachnocampa luminosa spends most of its life as a larva 3 to 5 millimeters long, for about 6 to 12 months, then transitions into a pupa for about 1 to 2 weeks, before it finally turns into an adult fly. They don't fly very well, tending to stay in large colonies, preying on other species like midges, mayflies, caddis flies, mosquitos, moths, or even small snails or millipedes.

Joseph Michael © Joseph Michael

Those strands you see are silky strands spun by the larvae, which are snares that trap prey with droplets of mucus. According to Wikipedia:

The glow is the result of a chemical reaction that involves luciferin, the substrate; luciferase, the enzyme that acts upon luciferin; adenosine triphosphate, the energy molecule; and oxygen. It occurs in modified excretory organs known as Malpighian tubules in the abdomen.

Joseph Michael © Joseph Michael
Joseph Michael © Joseph Michael

It's amazing to see how our planet is filled with these mind-blowing, unique experiences and creatures that are real, and not the stuff of the silver screen -- all the more reason to treasure our earthly home. More images over at Joseph Michael.

Tags: Artists | Arts | Nature | Nature Blows My Mind | New Zealand

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