Wildlife photographer Jeff Cremer recently discovered a potentially new species of glow worms while hiking through a rainforest in Peru.
These glow worms, seen by Cremer as glowing green dots, could represent the larval stages of an unidentified beetle species.
Cremer took photos of the worms and put them up on Reddit, inquiring about their nature. There, Cremer learned that these mysterious worms were insect larvae, probably that of a beetle. However, beyond that, no one recognized these mysterious bioluminescent creatures.
After re-visiting the glow worms with several entomologists, researchers learned that the insects used their light to lure in prey. They tested this theory by using stick insects and termites. The glow worms stuck their heads out of their dirt walls, their mandibles open before clamping them shut around their meals.
Researchers compared this lure-and-eat technique to the movie Tremors, where large underground worms burst from the Earth and ate people. Fortunately, these new glow worms eat only smaller insects, like ants and termites.
The team believes that these worms are the larvae of click beetles, although they have no idea where the glow worms fall into that family, which already has about 10,000 different species attached to it, although only 200 have bioluminescence. It could be that these new glow worms are part of an existing described species, or part of one not yet discovered.
Although these insects may seem trivial in the grand scheme of things, researchers believe they're important.
"Aside from the fact that they are downright bizarre and extraordinarily cool looking, the science behind bioluminescent click beetles is still lacking, writes the research team. 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? What can they teach us about their biochemistry and the biodiversity of life on our planet?"
Researchers are working with experts in Brazil to figure out if these beetles belong to an existing subset of beetles or are a new species of a beetle we're already familiar with.
[Photo Credit: Jeff Cremer,Perinature.com]