The glow worms were discovered at the Refugio Amazonas near the Tambopata Research Center in Peru. They use their phosphorescence to attract flies and ants which will “fly right into their jaws, and then they’ll just clamp shut and that’s their meal,” said Aaron Pomerantz, an entomologist who works with a rainforest expedition company at the site.
Pomerantz has carried out tests in which the glow worms ate stick insects and termites, using an attack which he says is reminiscent of the huge worms from the movie “Tremors.” He told Live Science that “they’re underground, and they burst from the earth.”
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Predatory glow worm: The discovery
The worms were actually discovered by nature photographer Jeff Cremer while he was working at the site. He noticed tiny glowing lights in a wall of earth, and his curiosity uncovered several dozen glow worms which measured around 0.5 inches in length.
Cremer then alerted entomologists at the lodge, who say that this is the first time they have seen anything of the kind in the region. After tests the scientists said that the worms were the larvae of a new species of click beetle, which use a distinctive “clicking” motion to avoid predators. Although adults eat flowers and nectar, Pomerantz said that it seems likely that the larvae are predatory.
Of the 10,000 known species of click beetles, around 200 emit light. Pomerantz predicts that the newly discovered creatures may be related to Brazilian fire beetles..It is not yet known exactly how the new species gives of light, but similar creatures use molecules known as luciferins to produce their glow.
Glowing bright, but for what purpose?
Most bioluminescent animals produce light to attract prey or deter predators, but their light can be used for other ends, such as attracting mates.
In this instance Pomerantz says that the larvae glow to attract prey. Brazilian click beetles have been known to congregate in termite mounds in order to lure in more food.
The team has contacted Brazilian scientists in order to determine whether they have discovered an entirely new species, or a subspecies.