Bioluminescence and glowworm caves

  • November 19, 2013
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Bioluminescence and glowworm caves


Bioluminescence†is the production and emission of†light†by a living†organism. Bioluminescence occurs widely in marine†vertebrates†and†invertebrates, as well as in some†fungi, microorganisms and terrestrial invertebrates. Some†symbiotic†organisms carried within larger organisms produce light.


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The glow in the former two groups is a yellow-green color.†The so-called†railroad worms†in the†Phengodidae†family 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 they†evolved†separately, though several other beetle families in the superfamily†Cantharoidea†also 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 best†light-emitting diodes†at 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. The†Lampyridae†larvae are believed to glow as a warning signal (see†aposematism) to predators like†toads†not to eat them as they are mildly toxic. But the†Arachnocampa†and†Orfelia†larvae, on the other hand, glow to attract prey like†midges†into sticky snare lines for the larva to feed on.


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The Waitomo†Glowworm Caves at Waitomo on the North Island of New Zealand


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