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Published: 23 April 2022

By Andy Ross

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Fungus gnats are mosquito-like insects and their larvae, most of them anyway, live on fungi and mushrooms. 

Some fungus gnat larvae, however, live a rather different life. They are carnivorous, setting traps to lure flying prey, and what traps these are. Long lines (relatively, of course, for these worms are not big) dangling from sheltered banks and caves at the top of which the larvae patrols. Each line is decorated with sticky globules of liquid to catch and hold the things that blunder into them and the blundering is not accidental. Far from it. These larvae use light of the most limpid blue to attract their prey, an irresistible siren call to attend the light that shines from the worm's tail. For the scientific of mind, the light is spellbinding too because it is made by the enzymatic reaction on a molecule that produces light; called Luciferase and Luciferin respectively. 

This week we were lucky enough to be invited to attend upon friends and their glowworms. A walk down a path from the house, across a bridge that spans a stream where eels lurk, up a path, a dive into the bush along a twisty-turny boardwalk and down into an old mine excavation, all accompanied by torchlight and knowledgeable conversation, set the scene for a truly magical experience. After a quick introduction to the soon-to-be-seen mini-beasts, we turned off our lights and instantly saw that we were surrounded by tiny blue spots of brilliant light. Some were small, some slightly larger. Some were bright, some were a little dimmer. All were extraordinary. 

It was a chance comment by our guide that he had played, I think, a flute to the glowworms once that let to what must have been surely a first in New Zealand: a baritone rendition of the Unst Boat Song from Shetland. According to the watchers and listeners present, the worms appeared to glow a little brighter as this far North music came to the South in the wilds of the New Zealand bush.