Shaun Jeffers - THL© Shaun Jeffers - THL
Shaun Jeffers - THL

10 Fun Facts About New Zealand Glowworms

© Shaun Jeffers – THL

Quick Facts About the Glowworms in New Zealand

One of the most fascinating and magical wildlife to see in New Zealand is the glowworm. Arachnocampa luminosa, more commonly known as glowworms, decorate many of the cave ceilings and even some bush walks in New Zealand. Just in case you missed what your guide said during your glowworm cave tour or didn’t get the privilege of a guide during your exploration of one of the 10 Free Glowworm Caves in New Zealand, then let us give you some fun facts about the New Zealand glowworms!

you’re here, you might also be interested in the 7 Places to See the Famous Glowworms in New Zealand and Where to See Glow Worms in New Zealand.

1. A Glowworm is Not Actually a Worm

First things first, we might all know glowworms as “glowworms” but they are not actually worms. The glowworms we see in New Zealand are fungus gnat, which is basically a short-lived type of flying insect. The stage that most of us see them in when they are glowing is in their larval or pupal stage. In other words, glowworms in this stage are shiny maggots.©

2. Glowworms Only Eat During Their Larval Stage

Glowworms have a pretty crazy life, which we’ll get onto later, but during their larval stage is the only time glowworms eat. This stage of their lifecycle lasts approximately nine months.©

3. The Hungrier a Glowworm, the Brighter it Glows

Just as our stomachs will rumble as we get hungrier, the glowworm glows brighter the hungrier it gets. The female also grows brighter than the male during the pupa stage to ensure that it has a mate when it’s time to hatch.


4. Glowworms are Very Territorial

Cave real estate is pretty valuable in the caves of New Zealand. When one glowworm encroaches on another, it can result in glowworm fights and occasional cannibalism.

Want to learn more about the habitat of the glowworms? See the 10 Fascinating Facts About the Waitomo Caves.

Mnolf on Wikipedia© Mnolf on Wikipedia

5. The Glow is Caused by “Sciencey Stuff”

So why does the glowworm glow? The glow is a result of a chemical reaction involving the luciferase enzyme acting on the luciferin substrate then combing with adenosine triphosphate and oxygen. Simple!

Shaun Jeffers - THL© Shaun Jeffers - THL

6. Glowworms Catch Their Prey in Sticky Lines

If you look closely at a glowworm during its larval stage, you’ll see that there will be fine beaded lines dangling from the larva. Glowworms create as many as 70 lines measuring 20-150mm (7-59″) long. The beads are thick drops of sticky mucus used to catch small insects attracted but the glowworm’s light.


7. Glowworm Nests are like Hammocks

Glowworms base themselves in individual nests attached to the roof of the cave. The nests hang like a hammock and are made of silk which can be repaired and reconstructed.©

8. The Glowworm Has Four Main Stages in its Lifecycle

Glowworms live their lives in four stages. First, they are an egg for 20-24 days. Next, they are a larva, which is when the glowworm builds a nest, makes its lines, glows and feeds. This stage lasts approximately nine months. Then, the glowworm becomes a pupa. This is when the glowworm morphs into a fly, taking 12 to 13 days. Finally, the glowworm becomes a fly. The females die quickly after laying their eggs, usually less than a day, while males can live up to five days.


9. Titiwai is the Maori Word for Glowworm

Glowworms in Maori are known as “Titiwai”. This loosely translates to “lights that reflect on the water”.

10 Fun Facts About New Zealand Glowworms© Shaun Jeffers - Tourism New Zealand

10. An Adult Glowworm Has No mouth

So why do adult glowworms in the fly stage live such a short life? Well, it might be partly due to the fact that the adult fly has no mouth! They basically just mate and die.

Shaun Jeffers - THL© Shaun Jeffers - THL


Robin C.

This article was reviewed and published by Robin, the co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. He has lived, worked and travelled across 16 different countries before calling New Zealand home. He has now spent over a decade in the New Zealand tourism industry, clocking in more than 600 activities across the country. He is passionate about sharing those experiences and advice on NZ Pocket Guide and its YouTube channel. Robin is also the co-founder of several other South Pacific travel guides.

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