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Watch a Stunning Time-Lapse of Cave-Bound Glowworms

These New Zealand sparklers aren’t stars—they’re insects

smithsonian.com

A starry sky twinkles with breathtaking, blue-green light. But not all stars are what they seem. In the video above, the sparkling lights aren’t stars at all—they’re insects. As WIRED’s Taylor Glascock reports, they’re glowworms, gnat larvae that cling to the ceiling of caves throughout New Zealand.

Glowworms may not be stars, but they also aren’t worms. In New Zealand, the term is used to refer to a group of luminous flies that are akin to gnats. While in their larval phase, the glowworms spin a nest made of silk and mucus. They hang out in the nest, gobbling down other insects that get trapped in their silky webs.

And oh, how they glow: The gnat-like creatures emit an eerie, bioluminescent light that reflects off of their nests and the ceilings of the limestone caves they call home.

The sparkling creatures have long sparked the imaginations of adventurers and explorers. In the 1860s, geologist and explorer Ferdinand von Hochstetter described “small grubs, one inch in length, which radiate from behind a phosphoric light.”

His glowing trek throughout New Zealand has been repeated by travelers eager to experience the country’s luminescent caves. Caves like Waitomo, New Zealand’s most famous, are carefully monitored by scientists to make sure that the delicate ecosystem within is not harmed by light-hunting tourists.

Glascock writes that photographer Jordan Poste spent 60 hours of shooting and edited around 3,000 frames to create a high-definition time-lapse of three caves in New Zealand. He’s not the only photographer mesmerized by the glowworms’ strange twinkle. Last year, Smithsonian.com covered the photographs of Joseph Michael, a New Zealand photographer who created spectacular long-exposure photos of the creatures. But Poste’s time-lapse view of the otherworldly “worms” may just make you view the enthralling insects in a whole new light.

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