Bioluminescence is relatively rare on land—which makes it seem magical when we see it. Some unfamiliar land-based organisms put on quite a show, scattered in unexpected places around the world.
Waitomo Caves, New Zealand: Glowworms living on the cave system’s roof drop sticky threads from their bioluminescent tails, which glow brighter when the larva is hungry. Insects that become tangled in the lines get reeled in and eaten by the glowworms, which eventually mature into a type of fungus gnat, Arachnocampa luminosa.
Blue Mountains, Oregon: The world’s largest bioluminescent organism is a fungus, Armillaria ostoyae. Its bioluminescent, underground growth structures are cordlike, extending across nearly 2,400 acres (10 sq km).
Mexico to Brazil: Bioluminescent beetle larvae burrow into huge termite mounds and use their lights to attract flying termites, gulping them down at a rate of up to nine per minute. Some say the mounds look like Christmas trees!
South Central California: Out of 12,000 millipede species worldwide, only eight are bioluminescent—and all live in only in three adjacent California counties! These millipedes emit a greenish-blue light that intensifies as a warning of their toxicity when they’re disturbed by a predator.