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Glow worms - Summer's Shining Light!

Walking up the drive last night, there was a vivid white flash in the grass to my side. Looking carefully, it was of course the beautiful light of the tiny glow worm, nestled deep among the vegetation but shedding a powerful beam on all its surroundings. What a star!

When we are all whizzing around trying to find acceptable and affordable ways to keep our lights burning, how can something so tiny create its own bright lights?

Glow worms are just one of many living organisms that can create their own fabulous light. They are not actually worms at all but a medium sized narrow beetle. After emerging from eggs, most of their lives are spent as larvae. These have segmented bodies and six legs positioned nearer their front. Their main diet is snails which they seem to paralyse before sucking the shell empty. The larvae exist for one or two more years and then, when they reach maturity, they stop eating. The adult males develop wings but the females don’t and remain flightless. However, inside their abdomens, females produce a chemical compound called luciferin which reacts with oxygen to emit a bright yellowish or greenish light. Female glow worms also produce an enzyme luciferase to help strengthen this process.

This process is known as bioluminescence. The light from a female glow worm comes from underneath the final small segments of her abdomen and is used to attract males and in some cases warn off predators. To show the light at its maximum, glow worms often climb up grasses and then arch their bodies so that the under area of the abdomen points out, emitting its bright glow.

Sadly, once the female has found a mate she will stop putting on her individual light show. Once she has laid her eggs, she dies quickly. The eggs will hatch in a few weeks and on it all goes.

If you want to spot glow worms, they are mainly out between June and August and this year, with its dry warm summer weather, should be an especially good year for glow worm spotting. Once adult, glow worms don’t move far because as they don’t eat they need to conserve energy. Usually they will crawl up a grass stem each evening to show off their light, and then if they haven’t found a mate in a few hours, will go back

Unfortunately there is no easy way to introduce these charming little light boxes into your garden. They are difficult to find in any quantity anywhere and they also vary dramatically according to the conditions. Sometimes they seem to thrive in an area and then something changes and they pretty well disappear. Having an abundant supply of snails does seem to attract glow worms in some areas, but nothing is guaranteed.

One modern development which is not helping the conservation of glow worms is solar lighting. Male glow worms are strongly attracted to artificial light. When solar lights are low down or in some cases at ground level, the males go to the lights instead of any nearby females.

Once you become interested in glow worms, suddenly a whole new world of bioluminescence opens up. Most people have also heard of fire flies, but in fact there is a whole range of not only bioluminescent insects and marine life but even some fungi. Magic mushrooms indeed!

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The above article is part of the features section of called laterlife interest. laterlife interest contains a variety of articles of interest for visitors to written by a number of experienced and new journalists.

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