While Arachnocampa luminosa may sound like the name of an intricate spell, it’s actually an insect that produces an enchanting effect completely on its own.
as “glowworms”, these gnat larvae produce a distinctive blue-green light
that illuminates New Zealand’s subterranean Waitomo glowworm caves. The tiny, star-like dots attract
unsuspecting flies, mosquitoes and snails to their sticky, silk string nests,
which stretch up to 40cm from the cave ceiling. Prey is fooled into thinking they
are still under the night sky, a trick that is not hard to believe when looking
up at the millions of luminescent creatures shimmering against a pitch black
The caves were formed more than 30 million years ago on the North
Island of New Zealand and were first explored in 1887 by a Maori chief and an
English surveyor. The two built a raft of flax to float down the underground
stream and discovered the “Glowworm Grotto” when they noticed bright lights
reflecting on the water. (The insect’s Maori name is titiwai, meaning “reflected over water”.) By 1889, Maori Chief Tane
Tinorau and his wife started leading tourists through the caves. New Zealand’s
government took over the operation in 1906, but it was returned to Tinorau’s
descendents in 1989.
Today, visitors can see the
glowworms perform their magic, just as they did more than 100 years ago, on a 45-minute
boat tour down the Waitomo River, through 250m of underground caverns.