Monday, July 12, 2010

New Zealand Part 3: Glow Worms (Parts 2 and 1 Coming Soon)

I have no idea how many travel guides we ended up with in New Zealand. There was the Moon Guide we bought before going, the little green kiwi guide we picked up in the airport, the “arrival” magazine we also found in the airport, the map with the main tourist attractions highlighted, the AA accommodations book (that was a thick one), and who knows how many others we found and picked up at the airport, car rental agency, hostels, and actual destinations. Most were never opened after our first day in New Zealand, but they all highlighted some main high points for our South Pacific adventure, and all of them advised seeing the glow worms through some mediated semi to extremely expensive tour group.

We finally made it to Waitomo caves towards the end of our trip. Although I was thinking of it mainly as a must do, I was excited to see in person the strange green constellations glowing in the cave’s dark sky. Looking at the glossy adds of amazed tourists in boats or tubes, I thought it’d be an experience like no other. And that’s exactly what it was, but not at all in the way I expected.

Practice makes pretty.

We hadn’t booked ahead hoping for some kind of winter deal, I suppose and that’s what we found. Rap, Raft n’ Rock gave the best deal and even included a tour guide who gave us some fun impressions of various American stereotypes. He did a mean valley girl. And after jumping into wet suits, donning some head-lamp helmets, and practicing abseiling down into the caves we went.

There was an initial disappointment. Yeah, there were these little green dots glowing in the dark above me, but it seemed just like the adds. Just like them. As in, as good as being there. This sensation was kind of puzzling at first, but I think part of it was that getting up close to something you’ve only seen in pictures usually reveals a wealth of new sensory information and more nuanced impressions. But at first it was, “huh, there they are then.” Exactly as they’d looked in the magazines only now I was standing in a rushing, eel-filled river and it was really dark.

Kill joy, I know. Traveling with me’s a pain.

So, there I was in a fit of underwhelm when we got a close up look at and explanation of fate’s cruel capacity as exhibited in its unstinting persecution of the little glow worm. The disgustingly fascinating facts are these.

  • Glow worms aren’t worms but maggots.
  • Their glow lures flies into small, sticky strings which they then hoist up to suck out their insides.
  • They have no anus.
  • Their undischarged fecal matter fuels their glow.
  • They pupate into a fly with no mouth ergo they must mate before starving to death usually within a day or two.

Glow worms far away.

A bit closer: the hanging strings that come out of its mouth to catch flies.

Up close, can you see the little maggot here? Translucent with the glow
on the left and its unexpelled waste towards the right.

Vile, fascinating things. No anus, then no mouth? I feel these bugs need an entire evolutionary apology to explain how nature could miscarry such an abominable creature. The wizard behind the curtain of these lovely-seeming worms is a grotesque monster.

The bioluminescent constellations above us.

My experience with glow worms was also the exact opposite of how I came to understand Maori art which seemed grotesque at first but was actually really lovely. Stay tuned for more on that in this reverse chronological tour of New Zealand.

End of part 3 of 3... or perhaps more. It really was an awesome trip.