Charismatic Minifauna Glowing Predatory Insect
“It’s not often you see a wall full of glowing predators.” That’s what Aaron Pomerantz, an entomologist at the Tambopata Research Center, said about a new mystery insect discovered in the Amazonian forests of Peru.  A dirt bank of glowing green dots attracted the attention of wildlife photographer Jeff Cremer at Refugio Amazonas. It turned out to be a hill full of tiny carnivores.
The greenish worms are the larval form of a click beetle, and their glow seems to have one function: attracting prey.  The larvae are more like a Tremors graboidthan a Star Wars saarlac: hiding out in little tunnels with just their glowing head sticking out, their jaws are spread wide open. When a hapless insect is attracted to the light and blunders into their lair, the jaws snap shut. The glow seems to function only to attract prey, not for protection. In fact, once disturbed, the lights go out. Pomerantz said ‘they just sort of shut off once we pulled them out.”

You can see the jaws in action in this video :


What are these things?
Glowing beetles aren’t new to science; Railroad worms or glow worms (Phengodidae) occur here in the United States, as well as around the world. Fireflies (Lampyridae), the beetles that light up summer nights with their butt-mounted glowsticks, are familiar too.  All bioluminescent insects known so far use the small organic molecule called luciferin to create light.  The glow in both those groups of beetles is mostly for sex; they are flashing a “Come-hither My Body is Ready” message.
These larvae probably belong to a group of click beetles called Pyrophorini, or fire beetles.  Adults have glowing spots, which… don’t honestly seem to have a function humans understand.  Some fire beetle species also have glowing larvae, and one in Brazil lives in old termite nests. The larvae create an erie wall of glowing dots, first described in 1850.  These are ferocious predators; an experimenter reportedfeeding 8 termites to one of the larvae in under a minute.
Other bioluminescent larvae found in Brazil have a quite different glow pattern. They primarily seem to light up when they are disturbed, which certainly would startle a predator in the dark.

Pomerantz is working right now with specialists in the US to see if he can identify his tiny glowing graboids. “If we can’t figure out what these are based on photos and their larval morphology, then I’ll definitely follow up with molecular studies.”
Cool Story Bro, but what’s it mean?
This week humans landed a robot on a comet, and we will soon learn amazing things about star stuff. Sometimes we forget, though, how profoundly ignorant we are about life on our planet. Even in the middle of a 6th mass extinction, we are still discovering amazing new forms of life.
Wired has written before about cool new animals found at Tambopata; the spider that builds a decoy in its web and the mysterious Silkhenge surrounded by a tiny web picket fence. All new mysteries to be explored. John Muir once said “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” Going into space is wonderful, but there is a lot still to be learned right here at home.
Source: http://www.wired.com

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