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Glowworm Adventures

Ray Blain is a retired pediatrician and medical consultant, and author of a forthcoming autobiography Becoming A Doctor; My Dreams and Nightmares.
The descent led to a dock with small boats in an underground stream
The larva eventually become glowing pupa which emerge as adult flies that strangely are poor fliers.

My experience with caves is not extensive but has at times been surprising, fun and educational. Several years ago we went on a vacation cruise and tour with stops in Hawaii, Fiji (during monsoon flooding and after an army insurrection), Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand.

At the beginning of each year the southern hemisphere enjoys summer heat while California is visited by rain and cold. I could probably write a book about all we saw, did, and the people we met, but this article is devoted to a spelunking experience that was exceptional though too brief.

As usual, part of our time off the cruise ship circumnavigating New Zealand were bus tours of the two principle islands. On one excursion in the northern island, the bus took us into the countryside until we came to what I recall as a hilly wooded area. We disembarked and walked down some steps carved in the stone into a cave. The descent led to a dock with small boats in an underground stream.

I was fascinated by intermittent glowing strands hanging from the ceiling over the waterway of what I perceived to be pale bluish tiny lights. The guide answered my curiosity by explaining that in New Zealand there are many caves that share this phenomenon.The light is generated by New Zealand glowworms.

In 1924, these creatures were giving their own Latin species name, Arachnocampa. The larvae and worms make silk threads to build nests and sticky snares, and intermittently generate a blue glow to attract and capture prey. Each nest may suspend up to 30 threads with sticky droplets spaced for effectiveness.

When their prey is helplessly caught by the sticky goo, the treads are pulled up to the nest by the larvae re-ingesting the thread and then the victim. The nutrients from this food supply are partially used to generate the bioluminescence. The larva eventually become glowing pupa which emerge as adult flies that strangely are poor fliers. The adults mate during the southern hemisphere winter and the female begins a new cycle by laying about 100 eggs.



I was in such awe of the glowing small creatures, that I included glowworms in Chapter 18 of my first fantasy novel, There Is a Dragon in My Closet. The book was republished as Amanda's Adventures with Bullies and Dragons after the first publisher went bankrupt

We boarded the boats and traveled with the current for a short distance through the faintly glowing cave and emerged to be picked up at another dock and continue our bus provided adventures.

The cave worms were a wonderful surprise and exhibited the marvels of how species survive that adjust by innovation and evolution to the available climate, food supply, and predator environment. Our visit also demonstrated how clever entrepreneurial humans use local peculiarities to generate opportunities to expose us to uniqueness, fun and educational vacations while generating employment and income for themselves.

We had such pleasures in Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand, Tasmania, Australia and on our cruise trip (pre-pandemic) while meeting wonderful people in our tour group and as our teachers and guides, that I would return tomorrow if I could just to meet more people and see additional hidden treasures.

Caves and educational experiences are near and far, available on a wide range of budgets, time availabilities, and interests. Curiosity, an open mind, and tolerance for occasional small inconveniences are a prerequisite in order to maximize such experiences. I hope sharing these experiences wets your appetite for having fun and venturing out as the pandemic wanes and your time and finances permit.

~ Raymond Leo Blain










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