Satisfy your child's curiosity about the glow worm with details that may surprise her – like the fact that a glow worm isn’t even a worm; it’s a beetle! The name Lampyris noctiluca, which comes from the Greek word for “shining ones,” boasts a family resemblance to the firefly. Fascinating observers young and old alike for thousands of years, the English glow worm provides an exciting study for any inquisitive young learner.
Glow worms are nocturnal, which means they stay awake at night. Because they like the dark, they live in dense forests and caves around the world -- even in the Arctic! Imagine living within the same three-foot area in a cave your entire life. For a female glow worm, that is normal.
Scientists who study glow worms are concerned that these insects may become extinct, or die out. Any time humans make changes to a glow worm's home, or habitat, it affects how they live. For example, when people take flash pictures of a glow worm's cave, the flash can damage a glow worm's light, which eventually will make it die.
Baby glow worms hatch from their eggs with 50 to 100 brothers and sisters. During the first two years of their lives, they are called larvae. To eat, they inject a snail, slug or other insect with a poison that paralyzes their prey. Eventually, the glow worm larvae mature to a pupa and then an adult. Unlike their baby stage of life, the adult glow worm only lives for a few weeks. In that short time, the female glow worms find a moist area to lay their eggs so the cycle can start all over again.
Why Do They Glow?
The baby glow worms, or larvae, use a special process between their body waste and oxygen in the air to make their bodies glow. When they grow up to be adults though, only the females can glow -- and even they only light up for two hours each night. The female glow worm twists her tail around to show the two bands and two dots of light. Male glow worms are attracted to the lights, but sometimes they get confused and follow a man-made light such as a streetlight!
Glow Worms throughout History
Ancient civilizations were fascinated with the glow worm, thinking the insects were magical because of their ability to light up. The tiny beetles appear in poetry and fairy tales as mysterious or supernatural beings, and history books reveal that early doctors even tried to capture glow worms' powers by using them in medicines. Legends claim that people used glow worms to line walkways and light their homes. Thousands of years later, a child’s toy was modeled after glow worms. Unlike the real insect, the toy’s head instead of the tail would light up when the body was squeezed.