I should start off by mentioning that I'm an entomologist, and part of my job involves searching for Neotropical insects and investigating their bizarre behaviors. This leads us to our first bioluminescent critter:
#1: Predatory Glow Worms
|A predatory glow worm patiently lures insect prey into its mandibles with its bioluminescence|
These are the larvae of click beetles, which are in the family Elateridae. While over 10,000 species of click beetles are known world wide, only a couple hundred species display bioluminesence. The larva pictured above likely belongs to the genus Pyrearinus, but we don't know the species yet. In any case, we think they utilize their bioluminesence, which only occurs in glands near their heads, to attract insect prey. With their natural light trap, they snag unsuspecting victims with their mandibles and pull them into the abyss of their tunnel.
#2 Flashing Fireflies
|Ventral (right) and dorsal (left) view of an adult firefly. Bioluminescnence is emitted in flashes from the lower abdomen.|
Next up on the list, we have the more commonly known fireflies, which are beetles in the family Lampyridae. The adults light up the sky near the river each night in order to attract mates. Males and females flash bioluminescent signals from special cells in their abdomens at just the right intervals and frequencies to catch the attention of the opposite sex of the same species.
#3 The Enigmatic Railroad Worm
|Female railroad worm with lights on (left) and lights off (right). Light is emitted from the head and paired photic organs on each body segment.|
#4 Glowing Ground
And last but not least, as we were taking pictures of the railroad worm we noticed something else strange. After we killed our headlamps, the ground around us appeared to start lighting up.
While we thought we must certainly be going crazy with all this bioluminescence on the brain, our eyes adjusted and the leaves were indeed glowing. Or more specifically, the fungi growing on the decaying leaf litter was glowing.
|The light was faint, but these long-exposures reveal the distinct green luminescence.|
So there you have it! Several species of glowing insects and glowing fungi condensed in one area. It really felt like we were in the rainforest of the Avatar movie, only even better because it was real life! We found all of these incredible glowing organisms near the Refugio Amazonas jungle lodge in Tambopata, Peru, so if you're curious about discovering some bioluminescence of your own, come here and check it out!
-Aaron Pomerantz, Entomologist
Follow Aaron on Twitter @AaronPomerantz