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Everything You Need to Know About Glowworms

Date: 5 February 2021

Glowworms are a must-see attraction for anyone travelling around New Zealand. Glowworms are known for their mesmerising blue and green glow which can easily be seen in nigh time. New Zealand glowworms tend to be found in caves, forests and other areas which maintain their dampness and tend to have shelter.

Family and Guide on small boat in the Te Anau Glowworm Caves

Exploring Te Anau Glow Worm Caves

What are Glowworms?

The scientific names for the glowworms which are found in both Australia and New Zealand are Arachnocampa Luminosa. These worms aren’t actually a worm; they are actually the larvae of fungus gnats. This is an insect that looks similar to mosquitos, as when they reach maturity, they become flies.

The glowworms found in New Zealand are carnivorous fungus gnats, meaning that their diet consists of insects smaller than them, such as moths, midges, and flies. Carnivorous glow worms catch their prey by hanging silk threads vertically which are covered in a sticky mucus that entraps the insect.

Why do Glowworms Glow?

Glowworms are bioluminescent animals, meaning that they create light through their tail with a process called bioluminescence. Other animals in New Zealand also have this quality, such as the Bioluminescent plankton and other deep-sea fish found on the coastlines.

The process of a glowworm glowing happens from an enzyme reaction including luciferase and various other chemicals and components. This light at the end of their tail comes from an organ similar to a human’s kidneys.

Glowworms in the Te Anau Glowworm Caves

Glowworms glowing on the Te Anau cave ceiling

A Glowworms Life Cycle

A glowworm has four stages within its life cycle and has very short lifespans once they reach adulthood - a female glowworm will live up to 76 hours, whilst a male glowworm tends to survive up to 96 hours. All four stages of a glowworms life cycle take roughly 10-11 months to complete. It is easy to find glowworms at any time of year, however, a large number of eggs hatch into larvae during winter months.

Stages of the glowworms life cycle:

  1. An adult glowworm will lay approximately 100 eggs, which will hatch larvae approximately three weeks later.
  2. These larvae continue to grow for six to nine months, gradually increasing in size from a few millimetres in length until it’s 3-4 centimetres long.
  3. Once larvae have reached maturation, they will turn into pupa instead. This means the worm will make a cocoon, where it will hang for roughly 2 weeks before maturation. After the maturation stage has been reached, the pupa will exit the cocoon as an adult fly.
  4. Once reaching maturation, the adult fly’s purpose is to mate and lay eggs. They cannot feed, as they only live a few days after reaching adulthood.

Where to Find Glowworms

Some of the best glowworms to visit in New Zealand can be found in Te Anau, located roughly 2 hours’ drive from Queenstown. This is a must-see location, as you will be captivated by the scenic cruise across beautiful Lake Te Anau,  a gorgeous walk through native forest, the cave system that has been carved by the fast-flowing water that flows through it, and of course, the glowworms…

Glowworms can be found in many places around New Zealand; however, we recommend taking a tour to ensure you’re at the best spot in town and to avoid getting wet when walking up cave streams.

Family in Te Anau Glowworm Caves

Make sure to make the most of your opportunity in New Zealand to see these glowworms- the only places in the world they’re found are in New Zealand and Australia! Book your Te Anau Glowworm Cave Tour today or check out our other tour options for your next trip.


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