Glow Worms - They're Actually Kinda Gross

Editor’s Note: I wanted to add a little context to the following post. After our stay in the Bay of Islands, we made our way inland to Waitomo (Dec 23rd). We stayed at an Airbnb that was on a farm overlooking green, rolling hills. It was ridiculously beautiful.

Waitomo Farm

We had dinner at the Huhu Cafe (as recommended by our host) and called it an early night after the long drive down from the coast. The next day, we checked out the Waitomo Glowworm Caves for which the area is famous. 

Following is Samantha’s commentary on the glowworm tour.

Waitomo CavesFirst things first… glowworms are actually maggots, not worms, but the people there decided that they would call them worms so more people would visit and because it was too late in the game already to change it to glow maggot caves.

Secondly, no matter what, you can’t let the pretty blue light they emanate fool you - they are actually quite gross. And by gross I mean completely disgusting. So into the questions you never wanted answered about glow maggots:

Why they produce the light

These maggots produce this light as a way to attract its food (flies, other small bugs, and even other glow maggots [they aren’t very picky and this is why they’re so spread apart]) while they’re still larvae.

Why is prey attracted to it

The light that is emitted is almost like a fake exit. The bugs interpret the light as an exit so they fly toward it and get stuck and eventually eaten.


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Break for an original piece by Samantha:

Fly on the Wall

“Hey how are you all doing?”

My companions just stare at me with their buggy eyes, sitting there unmoving. As if to play dead. “So you’re just gonna ignore me. Well fine, two can play at that game.”

Indignantly I go on with my life. A little bit of eating off the counter. Buzzing non-stop in a giant’s ear before it shoos me away. I repeat the process a few hundred more times before I am bored. I head back to my companions. They’re still ignoring me.

At this point I am less offended by the gesture and more suspicious. Coming closer I see that they are all on top of a delicious looking material. “Well,” I say slowly, “now that I’ve found it there’s no point in hiding it anymore.”

I land on top of the material and took a sniff first. Then quickly changed my mind about eating it. I flap my wings expecting to move. It doesn’t work. Oh s--t, I’m stuck.

Then I turn to see my companions once again. But this time with understanding. They weren’t ignoring me or hiding something from me. But they were stuck and had not moved in a very, very long time.

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How they catch their food + how they produce the light

So……… the light you’re seeing is made up of about thirty “strings” of mucus and saliva that can reach a length of ten centimeters that hangs off of them. (You may now shudder.)

So now you know what glow worms are, and all is fine. BUT! The tour guide took her flashlight and shone it at the glow worms after telling us this. Thus highlighting each and every single one of those strands of mucus and saliva.

Let me tell you, the feeling of realizing you were about to go on a boat ride that’s sole purpose is to let you watch and enjoy their light is very unsettling. But of course we were going to do it anyway because why not (in reality we were just starving from not eating yet and dad said we could get food right after the tour). So all was good.

The one major downside to this tour was when our tour guide forgot about some of our group. Everyone was in line to get on the boats but then she left ten of us. And didn’t come back. So we sat there alone, in the dark, with glow maggot saliva hanging above us. Thankfully after about ten minutes, the next tour behind us came in and got us out of there. So, yay no more glow maggots.

Overall, I didn’t actually hate the tour, and the caves were quite similar to the Cave of the Winds in Colorado so not everything was new. Plus, they were really pretty almost like they made up their own constellations because they had no access to the night sky from inside the cave.