Glow Worms - The Flashing Nocturnal Visitor

Glow Worms - The Flashing Nocturnal Visitor

Glow-worms are elusive little creatures. Years ago I saw one in Bulgaria, on some steps at Golden Sands. Golden Sands may have had a sandy beach, but what I remember more are the large wooded areas amongst and behind the hotels. I walked for what seemed miles in the woods, and found the Bulgarian equivalent of a country pub. It had something of the atmosphere of a hunting lodge, and I ate Shopska salad, the Bulgarian equivalent of Greek salad. The Bulgarians chop up the feta cheese, something I like to do with a Greek salad. I find the slabs of feta dumped on top of the Greek salad unappetising in appearance and taste. [2011 update. In 2009 I noticed for the first time "Naxos salad" on sale in Naxos - a Greek salad but topped with cubes of feta, and sometimes with Mizithra, a soft cheese - delicious!] Mixed up with oil, and the juice from the tomatoes and some rigani… Yummy! Another abiding memory of Bulgaria is of the horses wearing nappies - they wore a nappy strung up like a small hammock between the horse's nether regions and the carriage pulled by the horse. Thinking of various unsavoury incidents in England, I wonder if something similar could be designed for a dog…

Back to the glow-worm. One night we were looking for somewhere to eat. For the first week I had been on tour with a group - I forget if this was the wine-and-dine-group, or the ski-resort-without-any-snow group. Back in Golden Sands for the second week, many of us stuck together for evening meals. The deal in those days was that you got a heap of food vouchers and could eat at any of the state-controlled eateries. This may have been the night we ate in a sparsely populated restaurant. At another table on the opposite side of the restaurant, a large group of Russians was singing away happily. They stopped for a breather and a mouthful or two of food. A couple of Welsh chaps at our table started singing. Then when they stopped the Russians started up, all very good-naturedly. The amazing thing was that the two Welsh chaps far out-sang the large group of Russians in volume! The Welsh voices carried so well. That part of the evening ended with mutual congratulations.

Back again to that glow-worm. I was walking up some outside steps in Golden Sands when I saw a small light. The light reminded me of the glowing end of a cigarette. The memory can play tricks, but I remember the glow-worm as a reddish glow - or am I recalling what a fag end looks like? It was the light that caught my eye; I could not tell what the little creature looked like.

I have since read up on glow-worms - they are crawling, luminous insects that emit light continuously or in prolonged glows. Fireflies, on the other hand, emit light in brief flashes. Fireflies, that is a creature I had not heard of. Reading further on glow-worms, they are mostly wingless beetles or larvae. Ah, I read on, glow-worms with wings are called fireflies. So the wee beastie that kept me awake one night in Amorgos must have been a firefly, although its light was anything but in brief flashes. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The rhythmic flashing of the firefly is a courtship routine - so there should have been more than one firefly in my bedroom in Amorgos. Have you ever seen a glowing frog? Some frogs eat such large numbers of fireflies that the frogs themselves glow. The technical term for the glow of the firefly / glow-worm is bioluminescence.

One night, just as darkness was deepening, I was heading up the outside steps to my room at Katapola. Some other English people staying at the same rooms were huddled round the steps, chattering excitedly. We looked at the cause of the excitement - a small light the size of the head of a matchstick. The light was a shade of green, almost a fluorescent green, the shade you see on some liquid crystal displays. The source of the light - a glow-worm. There was enough light to see the little bug; it looked like a small maggot. That was the first time I had seen a firefly / glow-worm on Amorgos, or, indeed, in Greece, or anywhere apart from Bulgaria. That night I was so rudely disturbed, I did not see the bug itself. It was like this.

I was in bed in a ground floor room, I had put the lights out and was about to nod off to sleep. Suddenly I was wide awake, a bright light shining in the room. A bright beam of light moved round the room. At first I thought that someone was driving a car or motor bike outside, and the headlamp was shining through the window, then logic told me that that could not be so, as there was no way a vehicle could get outside the room. Anyway the shutters were closed, so any light from outside would be distorted. I tried to convince myself that the light was reflecting in the mirror, then the light zoomed way past the mirror.

I thought back to a night, many years earlier, in Amsterdam. I was a student, and was travelling as cheaply as possible. I had booked accommodation for a few nights in a hostel, but there was some problem with the booking and I had to look for somewhere else after the first night. On one night there was some sort of over-booking problem. The person in charge was walking round the dormitory at dead of night, shining a torch in each face. The pleasures of travelling cheaply! The only other thing I remember about that hostelry is the large number of aquaria. The tricks of selective memory.

Back on Amorgos, I shivered as I realised that the light, the torchlight or whatever it was, was inside the room. Peering out of the minimal cover of minimalist Greek sheets, I saw that there was no human agency attached to the light. A glow-worm, I thought, not then knowing that the technical term for the flying variety of the species was a firefly. A glow-worm was harmless, I thought, and relaxed. I would far rather have a glow-worm as a nocturnal companion than a mosquito. As the glow charged around the room, I began to feel less fond of my sleeping companion. I put the light on, hoping to coax the creature out of sight. When the room light was on, I could not see the glow-worm. I could see neither the glow nor the creature. I looked closely round the area where the glow had been coming from when the room light was switched off, but not a trace of it. I switched the room light off, and the glow appeared from the other side of the room. I imagined the glow-worm grinning smugly at the thought that it had outwitted me. This pantomime continued. Now I see you, now I don't. The glow moved toward the bathroom, and I pushed the door to. Ha! I thought, that's the last I'll see of you, and crept back to bed. Slowly, I saw the glow edging out of the bathroom. Greek bathroom doors never shut tightly. As I drifted off to sleep, I noticed the glow-worm tucking itself behind the curtains. I never saw it again.

I have seen glow worms on subsequent trips, infrequently, but when I do see them there are quite a few of the wee beasties.