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The Glowing Spider-Worms of New Zealand

Imagine you are a tiny caddisfly pupa. When you emerge from your pupal case, it is dark, but not pitch black, and high above you, you see the faint glow of a starry sky. On new wings, you rise. Cue angelic voices.

Suddenly, you struggle against an invisible barrier. Cue scary cello. You begin to inch higher and higher. Above you glows a star. Except now, too late, you see that the star is actually a lure attached to the back end of a very hungry larva. A larva, in fact, who is hauling up its sticky trap to eat you.

Such is the story of the cave glowworm, and it’s a tale of sinister beauty. To be human in the caves where these worms dwell is to feel like you’ve entered something out of Tolkien, or at least live on what must be one of the most extraordinary planets in the universe. In a cave stream passage I toured by raft when in New Zealand a few weeks ago (with Spellbound Tours out of Waitomo – recommended!), the roof glowed silently like a long, living Milky Way. So bright was the light of the worms that I could see the occupants of the raft next to me. So beautiful was the ceiling that it brought a tear to my eye. What a fabulous planet we live on, I thought. You could travel for millions of light years and not see this.

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