New Zealand, North Island
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This Cave in New Zealand is Full of Glowworms

This is another post about a no-photos-allowed location, so put on your imagination hats. There’s a series of elaborate caves centered around Waitomo, roughly in the middle of New Zealand’s North Island, that are home to huge colonies of glowworms. In the darkness of the caves, the glowworm larvae attached to the ceiling light up like thousands of stars. It’s like a planetarium show, but a planetarium show where you have to remind yourself that those aren’t stars, they’re glowworm larvae. It’s a bit of a WTF moment, to be sure.

They’re beautiful, these glowworms, magical and gentle and—oh, wait, nope, they’re super squicky and carnivorous. The female glowworm fly, which looks sort of like a mosquito, lays hundreds of eggs in one go. Why so many? The first larvae to hatch feast on their unborn brothers and sisters. NATURE. Each worm then attaches itself to the roofs of caves or the branches of trees in dimly lit forests where it proceeds to hawk a long, stringy loogie. When you see the glowworms in the light, it looks like a cave full of tinsel hanging from the ceiling, except it’s mucus. So that’s both festive and gross. At night, the glowworms do their gorgeous luminescent thing, and unwitting flying insects are drawn toward the light. Once they get caught in a strand of glowworm goo, it’s curtains. The glowworms remain larvae for nine months, after which they enter a cocoon and emerge as winged insects. In this stage they’re unable to eat, so they get it on, lay eggs, and then die of starvation in the span of, like, three days. Note that Pixar did not include any glowworms in A Bug’s Life. But some Quaalude-hopped toy executive in the 80’s thought this was a good idea:


Those eyes look neither sober nor trustworthy.

On the tour, you do manage to forget about the cruelty of nature and the thousands of strands of mucus hanging over your head as you float around the darkness of the cave in a boat. It’s silent (except for the Chinese tourists behind you)(MacKenzie’s supposedly allowed to say that because she’s Chinese) and pitch black, and it feels sort of like a Disney ride because of the boat. But it’s also really majestic and moving. You can see why those doomed flying insects would want to get a closer look.


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