Fungus gnats and fireflies

I have this list of things I wanna experience when I finally, one day, make it to the US: funnel cakes, Krispy Kreme donuts, Texas barbecue, a state fair, a rodeo, the Pacific Coast Highway, an active Hawaiian volcano . . . you get the idea. But top of that list is that I wanna catch a jar full of fireflies.

Fireflies in Aioiyama Ryakuchi Park, Nagoya, by Kazhidegu wikimedia commons.jpg
Not actually American fireflies. These are Japanese fireflies, in Aioiyama Ryakuchi Park, Nagoya, photographed by Kazhidegu, thanks to Wikimedia Commons

The United States isn’t the only place I could go to catch my fireflies. There’s a firefly park in Wuhan, China where they’re specially bred and released for ticket holders to admire, but I don’t want artificial fireflies. I want a field next to a creek lined with willow trees, and a vintage mason jar, and to be sixteen again and able to run and frolic for hours without wheezing my lungs out, and a magical fucking firefly-catching experience, okay?

Firefly lights are used as sexual lures. They’re the beetle equivalent of skimpy underwear. In Lampyris noctiluca the brighter the light, the more eggs the female has, and the higher quality of male she attracts: Lampyris noctiluca males don’t get to glow at all. Which is a damn shame.

Andrew Christian C-ring jock.jpg
The human equivalent of bioluminescence: the Andrew Christian C-ring Jock

There’s 2000 species of firefly around the world, and yet we have zero fireflies in New Zealand. Instead we have glowworms. The most famous are those from the Waitomo Caves, and they’re a huge tourist drawcard.

Waitomo caves by 2il org on Flickr CC licence.jpg
Waitomo Caves by 2il org on Flickr, used under a creative commons licence


Glowworms are not magical. Glowworms are fucking gross. Fireflies are Lampyridae beetles and beetles are cool beyond all reason. You know what New Zealand glowworms are? Fungus gnat larvae.

Fungus gnats are weak fliers who carry both fungal spores and plant diseases on their feet i.e. deeply, deeply uncool. Fungus gnat larvae exude tubes of mucous across cave ceilings, dangle silk threads covered in mucous globs, and use their glowing intestines to attract naive, trusting, newly hatched mayflies who get stuck in the sticky silk. And then the fungus gnat larvae digest the mayflies. Alive.

Look, mucous globs:

Waitomo caves by Chun Xia on Flickr, CC lince.jpg
Waitomo cave glowworm threads by Chun Xia on Flikr, used under a creative commons licence


Waitomo caves pic by Carsten Arsten on Flickr, CC licence.jpg
Pretty, pretty mucous globs. Photo by Carsten Arsten on Flickr (no, I don’t think that’s a real name, somehow, either, but weirdly, I’m writing a story with a character called Carsten in it right now). Photo used under a creative commons licence.

I don’t know why the hell people would come half way around the world to take photos of fungus gnat mucous when you have glowing beetles in your own backyards. GLOWING BEETLES! Sure, New Zealand glowworms are kind of cool if you imagine them big enough to attract and subdue unattended six-year-olds, but they do not beat glowing beetles, no way, no how.

I need to make my US trip sooner rather than later. Firefly populations around the world are declining, thanks to habitat loss, light pollution interfering with breeding, and insecticide use. In one part of Thailand populations dropped 70% in three years. And isn’t that pretty much a summary of every part of the ecosystem in the 21st century? Just hold off on the insecticide, please, Americans, until I get my mason jar ready. I’ll even trade you fungus gnat mucous for them.


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