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10 Awesome Land Creatures That

Can Glow
While bioluminescence is widespread among marine organisms, its rare on land,
and evolved millions of years later. Nevertheless, there are some fascinating land
creatures that have evolved the ability to produce light mostly insects and fungi.
Though the light emitted can come in different colors, the most common colors
both in the sea and on land are blue and green but on land you can also see rare
instances of yellow and even red. Organisms glow for various reasons like
attracting mates, warning predators, and finding food. Some glow only at specific
times, for a few seconds only, while others glow constantly. Here are some of the
few mesmerizing land creatures capable of glowing. How many of these have you
spotted before?

1. Glittering Glowworms: A fatal attraction

Image: Opticoverload via photopin cc

The bioluminescent glowworms Arachnocampa luminosa, also known as fungus


gnats, are about the size of a matchstick and found only in the dark and damp
areas of New Zealand, particularly the Waitomo Caves, which have become a
popular tourist attraction for its stunning starry spectacle. These glowworms are
the larvae that hatch out of eggs and eventually become adult two-winged insects
that usually live only for a few days solely for the purpose of mating. During the
larval stage, which is the longest stage lasting up to 9 months, the larvae have to
eat voraciously to last until the adult stage during which they cannot eat as they
do not have mouths.
2. Shiny Snails

An identified snail from Cambodia that looks just like Quantula striata.
Image: Wikipedia

The snail, Quantula striata, may look just like any other snail but it is the only land
snail known to be capable of producing light, and is found in Southeast Asia.
Unusually, its eggs continuously glow in the dark and upon hatching they produce
momentary flashes of yellow-green light from behind their mouth for several days,
though the light is dim.

The reasons for glowing and flashing are a mystery but interestingly they stop
glowing upon reaching reproductive maturity. Some researchers suggested that
through flashing they communicate with other members of their species and can
congregate, though they are not sure why. What a creative way to invite others for
a get-together!
3. Flashy Fungus

Glowing mushrooms (species not identified)


Image: Smoken Mirror via photopin cc

Apart from insects, bioluminescence is most common among fungi; in fact at least
50 species of luminous mushrooms have been reported, with Australian species
being more luminous than North American ones. One of the coolest species is a
mushroom Mycena lucentipes, one of six bioluminescent mushroom species that
scientists discovered in 2006 in the Atlantic forest of Brazil. It glows bright green
and at night it is truly an enthralling sight. But why do they glow? Mycologists or
fungi experts dont know but they have speculated that it may be to beckon
arthropods that help in dispersing their spores to other locations. Other
explanations posited that their glow may deter bugs from eating them or attract
predators of the bugs to eat them so that they cannot eat the fungi in other
words they may invite their enemys enemy to protect themselves.

There are more fungi species out there waiting to be discovered so next time you
go for a walk in the forest, go at night and look around carefully who knows you
might even stumble upon a new glowing fungus!
4. Toxic Glow-in-the-Dark Millipedes

Image: edenpictures via photopin cc

Of the over 12,000 millipede species known, only a handful of them belonging to
the genusMotyxia are bioluminescent and all of them are found exclusively in the
mountainous regions of California. They spend the day burrowed under the soil
but upon nightfall these blind creepy crawlies wriggle out from the ground to
munch on dead plants and emit a constant glow from their exoskeleton. Their
glow is ominous to predators: When disturbed or threatened they release toxic
cyanide from tiny pores in their bodies. In an experiment to test this notion,
researchers placed fake painted millipedes made of clay alongside real glowing
ones at night and examined them the next morning. To their surprise the fake
millipedes were viciously attacked upon four times more often than the real
glowing ones by what they deduced were rodents.
Amazingly , these millipedes have evolved a different mechanism to glow that
doesnt use luciferase but employs a photoprotein instead that lights up when
activated with calcium-rich compounds. This mechanism is similar to the way the
jellyfish, Aequorea Victoria, glow using green fluorescent protein, which is widely
used in the lab for research purposes such as attaching it to genes of interest to
study their location inside cells.
5. Radiant Railroad Worms

Image: National Geographic

Railroad worms are larvae and female larviforms, which are adults about two
inches in length that resemble larvae and belong to the same beetle superfamily
as fireflies. They are one of the few organisms that achieve the remarkable feat of
emitting not one but two colors in different parts of their body. These worms
belong to the genus Phrixothrix and are found in South America. The worms
resemble a miniature train bustling away at night: The head glows a fiery red
whereas the body emits green light through eleven pairs of luminous spots
arranged in rows.

Scientists learned that the luciferase enzyme involved in the reaction that gives
off the atypical red color in the head is the only enzyme that can do this in nature
and is slightly different in structure from other luciferases. Studies as far back as
the 1940s reported that upon a slight disturbance such as knocking the table
and blowing over them they switch on their red headlight and when faced with
more vigorous disturbances they turn on both of their rows of green lights. More
recent evidence suggests that their glow sends a signal to predators that
they taste terrible.
6. Luminous Click Beetles

Image: Adrian Tween via photopin cc

Many click beetles in the family Elateridae (close relatives of fireflies) especially
those from the genus Pyrophorus are bioluminescent and they are found in
tropical areas of the Western hemisphere. They are also called snapping beetles
and as their name suggests, they make clicking sounds when propelling
themselves up in the air often several inches to right themselves if they are
lying upside down. When threatened by predators they can also swiftly jump high
up in the air to defend themselves.

Whats more, they produce a constant light in many different colors from green
all the way to orange depending on the species in two spots in the front looking
like headlights and one below its abdomen. The headlights glow so intensely that
they can be spotted over a hundred feet away. The Jamaican species Pyrophorus
plagiophthalamus is unique in that it can produce two different colors of light in its
body; underneath its body it emits a yellow light and on the top its headlights
glow green. They sure look like theyre from another planet. Scientists think that
their upper and lower lights have different functions: their headlights are a beacon
to predators of their toxicity while the light under their bellies
facilitates communication between members of the opposite sex.

7. Freaky Glowing Cockroach

Image: Wikipedia

As if roaches werent creepy enough, how about encountering the glowing


roach, Lucihormetica lucka, scurrying outside your home at night? Well chances
are rare in fact you may never encounter one in your life because theyre only
found in the rainforests near an active volcano in Ecuador and the last known
specimen was collected in 1939. Chances are that they may even be extinct by
now.

But glowing roaches arent new: since their first discovery in 1999, 13 species
have been identified in South America. L. luckas two eye-like spots and another
spot on its back illuminate broadcasting their toxicity. But it turns out they are not
really toxic theyre just faking it; theyre cleverly mimicking click beetles their
older relatives mentioned earlier that glow to advertize their toxicity but this
roach that emits a light identical in color is just fooling its predators. Looks can
truly be deceiving! The light spots are filled with bacteria that live on its
exoskeleton.

8. Eerie Earthworms

Diplocardia longa exudes a blue glow-in-the-dark slime.


Image: Milton J. Cormier via Live Science

Weve all seen earthworms at some point in our lives. But have you have ever
seen a glowing earthworm? There are 33 species of luminescent earthworms
found all around world though most of them are clustered in the American South.
They emit light from blue all the way till the red end of the spectrum.
Earthworms normally secrete mucus, which scientists call coelemic fluid, to glide
easily in their burrows, but a couple of rare species exude a unique type of mucus
one that can actually glow. Yes, you heard right, its mucus is bioluminescent!

There are two species reported with different colors of slime: one from New
Zealand and the other from Georgia in the US. The peculiar earthworm in New
Zealand, Octochaetus multiporus,oozes a bright glow-in-the-dark orange-yellow
coelemic fluid from its mouth, anus, and underside when it feels disturbed or
threatened. In fact, it is so bizarre that its fluid seems to glow in different colors at
different stages of its life. Interestingly, their glowing slime was spotted by the
Maori who exploited O. multiporus as fishing baits. The earthworm from
Georgia, Diplocardia longa, is found in the sandy soils of the coastal plains and
spews a brilliant blue slime that is thought to alarm predators. Perhaps the colored
slime oozing from monsters that we see in childrens games isnt that far-fetched
after all.

9. Beaming Bacteria: A friend or a foe?


(A) shows the bioluminescence of Photorhabdus luminescens. (B) shows
Photorhabdus luminescens glowing green (due to addition of green florescent
protein) inside the intestine of a nemotode. Image: Todd Ciche via Microbe Wiki

Photorhabdus luminescens are incredibly unique in that they are the only land
bacteria capable of bioluminescence. They are fascinating because on the one
hand they are useful to nematode worms (roundworms) but on the other hand
they are lethal to other bugs. The microbes live happily in the guts of soil-dwelling
nematode worms in a symbiotic alliance where both of them benefit: They impart
a soft blue glow to the worms, presumably to entice prey, and in turn they share
some of the nutrients from the worms food.

To make things complicated, these nematodes are actually parasites that hunt
other soil insects such as the larvae of beetles, moths, and flies where they
penetrate into and establish themselves inside their body. Once inside, they
regurgitate their insidious microbial partners into the hosts bloodstream. The
microbes then begin their chemical warfare; they kill the host by injecting a flood
of deadly insecticidal proteins into its cells and enzymes that break down its body,
reducing it to a nutrient soup within two days. P. luminescens happily devours
this soup and multiplies exponentially giving rise to millions more of itself. At the
same time, the microbes release antibiotics preventing other bacteria from
invading their feast. The worm in turn feeds on the thriving bacteria and
undergoes several rounds of reproduction inside the cadaver producing hundreds
of eggs each time that also consume the bacteria. When nutrient supplies
dwindle, the remaining bacteria re-colonize the guts of the worms newly hatched
offspring and they erupt from the corpse to set off seeking their next victim.
Sometimes when food supplies are exceedingly low, the hatched offspring feed on
their mothers gut instead, killing her in a gruesome phenomenon called matricida
endotokia.
10. Flamboyant Fireflies Natures free fireworks display

Image: Utsushi-Dan Owl

We cannot complete our list without covering fireflies the most popular and
widely studied bioluminescent land organisms. Fireflies are actually beetles whose
conversations consist of patterns of light flashes from their abdomens, which are
unique to each species, and can be yellow, green, or even red. Male fireflies
exhibit specific light flashes that are only understood by potential mates who
respond by emitting the same flashing signal that males can recognize and move
towards the females. Sound like a charming way to attract mates?

Well, some fireflies arent all that captivating, at least not female fireflies from the
genusPhoturis. They employ their lights as a ploy: they imitate the signal flash-
and-delay patterns of female Photunis fireflies to lure Photunis males, but for a
purpose other than mating to devour them. The nave males move towards them
hoping to find a mate but instead find death. So why do they eat
them? Photuris fireflies lack a defensive compound called lucibufagins, which
helps to deter predators such as spiders from eating them. But
theirPhotunis cousins produce it in copious amounts so they cunningly obtain it by
consuming them.