Bioluminescence and glowworm caves

  • November 19, 2013
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Bioluminescence and glowworm caves


Bioluminescenceis the production and emission oflightby a livingorganism. Bioluminescence occurs widely in marinevertebratesandinvertebrates, as well as in somefungi, microorganisms and terrestrial invertebrates. Somesymbioticorganisms carried within larger organisms produce light.


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The glow in the former two groups is a yellow-green color.The so-calledrailroad wormsin thePhengodidaefamily have an additional red light at their head. The fly larvae produce a blue-green colour. The glow is produced by different organs in the different families, suggesting theyevolvedseparately, though several other beetle families in the superfamilyCantharoideaalso exhibit bioluminescence, suggesting a single origin within this lineage and hence that the Lampyrids and Phengodids share a bioluminescent ancestor. The chemical reaction in each case is veryefficient; nearly 100% of the energy input is turned into light (compared to the bestlight-emitting diodesat just 22%).


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The purpose of the glow varies. Those adult females that glow do so to attract a male for mating. TheLampyridaelarvae are believed to glow as a warning signal (seeaposematism) to predators liketoadsnot to eat them as they are mildly toxic. But theArachnocampaandOrfelialarvae, on the other hand, glow to attract prey likemidgesinto sticky snare lines for the larva to feed on.


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The WaitomoGlowworm Caves at Waitomo on the North Island of New Zealand


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