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Glowworm (Phengodes spp.)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Glowworm

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An unusual beetle, the bioluminescent and beloved Glowworm has delighted generations with its light show and catchy song.

Updated: 10/11/2022; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
The larval form of the Glowworm Beetle is called a Glowworm. The larva is long and tubular like a worm, and it emits a yellow, orange, or green light from its body using bioluminescence, not heat. Some species can emit a red light from their head. They mostly eat other crawling things like millipedes, slugs, snails, and even other insects. A toxic cocktail is injected into their prey as they bite it. This causes the internal parts of the prey to dissolve whereupon the Glowworm eats it. They are found in soil, leaf litter, grasslands, and even in caves, where they light up the roof like stars.

Adults look similar to lightning bugs, or fireflies. They are orange and black with large bulging eyes on the sides of the head. Glowworm Beetles have long antennae with wispy, feathery lashes. Males, not females, have wings. They do not have a hard wing covering (elytra) like other types of beetles. Larvae and females, not males, are the ones that can glow. A female looks like a cross between her larval and adult form. Her beacon of light is how she attracts a mate, bringing him to her since she is not as mobile.

Collecting Glowworms for captivity actually reduces their ability to successfully reproduce and maintain a population in a specific area. Admiring Glowworms in their habitat and allowing them to finish the mating process allows for an annual summertime display. Glowworms were the subject a fun tune sung by the Mills Brothers in the early 1950's. Their harmony and lyrics are still easy on the ears. Look for adult Glowworm Beetles day or night, but enjoy the illumination of their young worms after the sun has set. It doesn't hurt to hum their song, too.©InsectIdentification.org

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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Insect antennae icon
Flying insect icon
Harmless insect icon

Taxonomic Hierarchy

Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Coleoptera
        Family: Phengodidae
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          Genus: Phengodes
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            Species: spp.

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Phengodes spp.
Other Name(s): Glowworm Beetle
Category: Beetle
Size (Adult; Length): 11mm to 65mm (0.43" to 2.55")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: black; orange
Descriptors: large; feathery antennae; lightning; bug; glow; light; belly; wasp-like; flying; harmless

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 11mm (0.4in) and 65mm (2.6in)
Lo: 11mm
Md: 38mm
Hi: 65mm

Territorial Map*

U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Glowworm may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Glowworm. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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