14 November 2023
On my way to somewhere else I found … tiny blue lights in the woods. I have never seen them in person but these photos from Anna Ruby Falls Recreation Area in the Chattahoochee National Forest are intriguing. Bioluminescent mushrooms glow green, fireflies glow yellow-green, but these are blue.
Each light is one of two ends of a fungal gnat larvae (Orfelia fultoni). This photo by Alan Cressler, embedded from Flickr, shows what the larva looks like during the day.
Alan Cressler describes them:
Orfelia fultoni, Anna Ruby Falls Recreation Area, Chattahoochee National Forest, White County, Georgia:
This is the only bioluminescent fungus gnat larvae in North America. Both whitish ends of the larvae emit a blue light used to lure prey. Although they may be common in proper habits, apparently there are very few places in the southeast where they form extensive colonies. One place is Dismal Canyon in Alabama where they are locally called “dismalites”. I was invited by my friends who work for the Chattahoochee National Forest to view and photograph the extensive colony at Anna Ruby Falls Recreation Area. Locally the event is called “fox fire” and there are scheduled night hikes to witness the amazing colony. Other than the guided night hikes, after hours entry into the area is prohibited.
Fungus gnat larvae live within a slime tube and develop a network of sticky filaments that capture prey that are attracted by the blue glow. The sticky filaments can be seen in the photos.
In the photographs above, the lights don’t look connected but you can see how they move in this video in New Zealand. The bluish glow worms in New Zealand are not the same species but they have a similar appearance and behavior.
Back in Georgia the foxfire glows mid-May through June when the gnat’s larval form is alive. Night hikes are offered during those months but pre-registration is required and the hikes fill up fast. Don’t wait until May 2024 to check this website for Foxfire Night Hikes at Anna Ruby Falls: https://gofindoutdoors.org/events/foxfire-night-hikes-coming-soon/
(Originals and credits of the slideshow photos can be seen by clicking on each photo)