What bioluminescent insect was this? And no, LSD is not an answer.
December 29, 2010 7:59 PM   Subscribe

What strange insect did I set that lit up bright orange and flew around the Ecuadorian cloud forest?

Back in the summer of 2005 I was in the cloud forests of Ecuador, about 50-80 miles north of Quito. One night I saw the strangest bioluminescent insect fly through the forest. It lit up bright orange, almost like it was on fire. Periodically it would land and the light would go out. Then as it flew again, it lit up. It may have had two parts of its body lit up (spots perhaps), but I couldn't tell for sure.

I tried to get close enough to see what it was but couldn't. It appeared to be an insect of some sort, at least 3" long, but I could be wrong. Its flight pattern suggested it was fairly large (bigger than a bumblebee).

It was NOT a firefly. It was MUCH brighter than a firefly (at least, the types you see in the southeastern U.S.). And it flew a lot faster as well. Plus the color was orange and not green.

I saw it fly around for at least 5 minutes so I am quite sure of what I saw.

What the hell could this have been? I emailed a tropical entomologist shortly after I saw it, and even he had no idea.

No, I wasn't on drugs...
posted by buckaroo_benzai to Science & Nature (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, I probably should have mentioned, the orange light was on the entire time it was flying, unlike fireflies, which blink on and off.
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 8:00 PM on December 29, 2010

Response by poster: And ideally, I am looking for answers from people who have seen a similar thing in the same part of the world. Like I said, I didn't get a close look so if someone says "Maybe it was XYZ" (with a picture), I won't be able to say for sure. Guesses from googling are great, but definitive answers are better.
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 8:03 PM on December 29, 2010

Best answer: Dunno, but when I was in Guyana there were several species of bioluminescent insects, but the locals all just called them "candle flies" pretty much. There were greenish ones that went on and off like fireflies, and one larger, longer one that was was dark brown with a light-up orange abdomen which I found on the dining table one evening. It was dying, but pulsed in my hand for a good ten minutes or so, looking rather like a lit cigarette.
posted by The otter lady at 8:06 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Unfortunately, I'm not sure what kind of insect you saw. There are several thousand species of Lampyridae, the group that includes various fireflies in the US. Although most glow green and blink to attract mates, not all do. This one, for example, is common in Central America and glows constantly.
posted by Nomyte at 8:09 PM on December 29, 2010

Best answer: It actually had a sort of set of lights on the underside of its abdomen, and would 'pulse' up along them... I know this sounds silly but it looked like one of those sound equalizer bars. The lowest one would light, then the lowest and next up, then three up, then up to four... and then back down to one. And then up again... I sat with this thing in my hand, under the surface of the table, staring in fascination and completely ignoring the dinner conversation. I showed it to someone who went "huh, candle fly, yep".
posted by The otter lady at 8:09 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: That "candle fly" is a glowing click beetle.
posted by two lights above the sea at 8:25 PM on December 29, 2010

Er, the bug that Nomyte mentions is a glowing click beetle. Dunno about the otter lady's bug.
posted by two lights above the sea at 8:27 PM on December 29, 2010

Response by poster: Hmm, now that I look at pictures of the bioluminescent click beetle, that seems to be it.


The only thing is that they seem to glow green, and I remember seeing something orange. But every other description fits.
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 8:41 PM on December 29, 2010

Yep, mine most certainly glowed orange. It looked so very like the coal on the end of a cigarette that I was almost afraid to touch it. It looked -hot-.
posted by The otter lady at 10:20 AM on December 30, 2010

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