These Glow-in-the-Dark Critters Will Blow Your Mind


If you’re familiar with the 2009 science fiction film, “Avatar”, you may have enjoyed the beautifully lush extraterrestrial glowing rainforest. But the other worldly glowing rainforest that I experienced was far closer to home, in the Peruvian Amazon of Tambopata this past March.

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 of our first bioluminescent critter:

#1: Predatory Glow Worms

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


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


The third bioluminescent organism was a big surprise. Crawling in the leaf litter was a railroad worm in the family Phengodidae. This is a less well known family of beetles whose members display bioluminescence and they also have —> Read More