Unusual ‘Glow Worm’ Discovered In Peruvian Rainforest

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
A mysterious, worm-like, glowing green larvae that lives in the Peruvian rainforest and uses its phosphorescence to lure unsuspecting prey into its waiting jaws might sound like something out of a horror story – but it’s very real.
These unusual glow worms were discovered by members of a rainforest expedition company near the Tambopata Research Center in Peru, and according to LiveScience staff writer Tia Ghose, it is believed to be the larval stage of a not-yet-identified species of beetle.
The creature was discovered by accident by wildlife photographer Jeff Cremer. While on a night hike in the rainforest of Tambopata, he reportedly noticed “several glowing green dots embedded within a dirt wall,” entomologist Aaron Pomerantz, who would accompany Cremer on a return journey to Peru this past October, wrote in a blog posted earlier this month.
Upon taking a closer look, it turned out that there were several dozen of the miniature insects, each of which glowed green in the night and were approximately 0.5 inches (1.2 centimeters) long. Cremer snapped some photos of the creatures and posted them online in the hopes that he would learn more about it.
While he was able to find out that the dots most likely belonged to some type of insect larvae, possibly a type of click beetle, little else was known about the creatures. So Cremer, Pomerantz and University of Florida graduate students Mike Bentley and Geoff Gallice made a return trip to discover more about this mysterious, glowing larvae.
According to Ghose, the researchers found that these glow worms eagerly consumed stick insects and termites in tests, and their style of attack was described as being reminiscent of the massive man-eating worms featured in the 1990 movie “Tremors” in that they live underground and “burst from the earth,” Pomerantz told the LiveScience reporter.
Click beetles, which belong to the family Elateridae, use a fast popping or “clicking” motion to escape predators, Pomerantz said. There are over 10,000 species of click beetles, approximately 200 of which are bioluminescent. While adults may feed on flowers and nectar, the larvae are most likely predatory, Ghose added.
“Bioluminescent animals usually glow to either lure in prey or to warn predators that they contain noxious chemicals. But the glowing also occasionally serves other purposes,” the LiveScience reporter said. In the case of the click-beetle larvae, Pomerantz said that it appears to glow to attract prey.
Pomerantz said that it was not certain at this point whether the creature first spotted by Cremer is an entirely new species or a subspecies of an existing type of beetle. However, the researchers are contacting experts in Brazil in order to find out, the entomologist noted. He also said that he and his colleagues plan to “investigate these amazing glow worms further to see what more we can learn while seeking to protect them and their environment.”
“At the end of the day, why should we care about these critters? Aside from the fact that they are downright bizarre and extraordinarily cool looking, the science behind bioluminescent click beetles is still lacking. What role do they play in the complex environment and ecosystem of the Amazon rainforest? Why exactly did they develop the ability to produce their own light, and how did this trait evolve?” he added. “These questions are far from answered, but perhaps a curious naturalist will come along and help to solve this, and many other, Amazonian mysteries.”
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