Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 181, Issue 4, pp 477–486 | Cite as

Using light as a lure is an efficient predatory strategy in Arachnocampa flava, an Australian glowworm

  • Robyn E. Willis
  • Craig R. White
  • David J. MerrittEmail author
Original Paper


Trap-building, sit-and-wait predators such as spiders, flies and antlions tend to have low standard metabolic rates (SMRs) but potentially high metabolic costs of trap construction. Members of the genus Arachnocampa (glowworms) use an unusual predatory strategy: larvae bioluminesce to lure positively phototropic insects into their adhesive webs. We investigated the metabolic costs associated with bioluminescence and web maintenance in larval Arachnocampa flava. The mean rate of CO2 production (\( \dot{V}\)CO2) during continuous bioluminescence was 4.38 μl h−1 ± 0.78 (SEM). The mean \( \dot{V}\)CO2 of inactive, non-bioluminescing larvae was 3.49 ± 0.35 μl h−1. The mean \( \dot{V}\)CO2 during web maintenance when not bioluminescencing was 8.95 ± 1.78 μl h−1, a value significantly lower than that measured during trap construction by other predatory arthropods. These results indicate that bioluminescence itself is not energetically expensive, in accordance with our prediction that a high cost of bioluminescence would render the Arachnocampa sit-and-lure predatory strategy inefficient. In laboratory experiments, both elevated feeding rates and daily web removal caused an increase in bioluminescent output. Thus, larvae increase their investment in light output when food is plentiful or when stressed through having to rebuild their webs. As light production is efficient and the cost of web maintenance is relatively low, the energetic returns associated with continuing to glow may outweigh the costs of continuing to attract prey.


Metabolic rate Bioluminescence Web Silk Sit-and-wait predator 



This research was partially supported by the Australian Research Council projects DP0879605 (CW) and DP0773229 (DM).

Supplementary material

360_2010_533_MOESM1_ESM.doc (38 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 38 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robyn E. Willis
    • 1
  • Craig R. White
    • 1
  • David J. Merritt
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

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