Just like Spielberg‘s Indiana Jones I’m not very fond of bugs – which is where the similarity between me and the intrepid antiquities hunter ends, give or take a wrinkle or two which I might share with Mr H. Ford.
Apart from ladybirds, butterflies, dragonflies and moths, there was only ever one other insect I felt a certain affection for: the glow worm.
Ever since I sat through an open air theatre performance of a Shakespearean play in Regent’s Park, I have had fond memories of the little lantern guys. Just when I was about to nod off (not being overly fond of the Bard), a squadron of glow worms came out and started to circle just above the actors’ heads. Talk about being in the limelight! Not sure, if the actors noticed it at the time, but if they did, no doubt they must have relished this vote of approval from the animal kingdom.
Glow worms, or Lampyris noctiluca to be precise, belong to the family Lampyridae, a family made up of several species of fireflies, which are distributed around the world. All their larvae glow thanks to a chemical reaction in their bodies that produces light and a miniscule amount of heat. Nobody knows exactly why glow worms do their glowy thing, some say it’s to scare off predators, others say it’s to remind predators that glow worms taste foul to put them off an assault.
Glow patterns are used as a sort of sign language to communicate with others of their own species – namely to attract the opposite sex – as well as frighten off anyone who wants to eat them.
Girl glow worms and fireflies often mimic the glow pattern of other firefly species in order to attract hapless males and then devour them – not in the romantic, sexy sense, you understand – no, firefly girls lure males as prey. I had thought the little critters rather cute, now every time I think of them, a picture of gold-digging, busty blondes emerges in my writer’s imagination, the type of woman who seems to have a golden halo but whose heart is as cold as ice. Interestingly, only female glow worms have the ability to shine their little lanterns.
Given that it’s usually the boys in nature who posture, bark loudest, puff up their chests or adorn themselves with richly coloured plumes, the humble glow worm seems to have developed remarkable girl power – strong enough to mimic a LED light indicator on a TV or hi-fi set. Girl glow worms can only shine their light for a few weeks to tempt males who happen to fly past.
After mating, Mrs Glow Worm lays her eggs and then shortly afterwards dies. Her offspring has the ability to track the slime of snails and uses said slimy creatures as a rich food source, while growing up. The larvae are able to paralyze the snails with some sort of venom and then suck them dry. Remind you of anyone? Well, vampires in part but more to the point, our old friends the spiders do just the same – as Frodo and Samweis Gamshie find out in Lord of the Rings.
Glow worms are not worms at all – though so far nobody’s threatened to report them under the UK’s trade description act for wrongful advertising. Fireflies are beetles, about 25 mm in length. It may take two or even three years after Mrs Glow Worm has mated and laid her eggs before the larvae turn into fully paid up, adult membership only glow worms themselves.
While most other critters in the animal kingdom, including humans, have a larger male than female, the firefly girl power extends to much larger females than males. Mr Glow Worm at the time of mating is just 15 to 18 mm in length, so easily overpowered by Mrs Glow Worm’s ample forms as well as her glowing personality. Treat them mean to keep them keen? Well, there’s the remarkable coincidence of skinny men seemingly preferring ladies with ample proportions in the human realm…and those glowy, tall, busty blondes usually dump their guy for the next big spender, don’t they?
I’m still undecided if Willow the Vampire’s encounter with glow worms will be a friend or foe situation. The temptation is to have glow worms working in league with Hamadryades, mythical creatures, which attach themselves the moment they are born to trees. For the remainder of their magical life they are then bound to the tree. Hamadryades look quite human, despite their amalgamation with the tree, but they display plant-like characteristics which might have a completely different agenda to Willow the Vampire, who is trying to save the Earth.