Glowing reference to UQ research in new Attenborough TV program

A University of Queensland glow-worm researcher has shared his scientific expertise as part of a new Sir David Attenborough wildlife documentary on living organisms that emit light.

UQ School of Biological Sciences researcher Associate Professor David Merritt was scientific advisor for a segment of Attenborough’s Life That Glows, which includes spectacular footage of a range of bioluminescent animals.

Associate Professor Merritt researches bioluminescence in glow-worms that produce light to attract prey to their sticky webs.

“While glow-worms are present in rainforests along Australia’s east coast, the biggest and most spectacular glow-worm displays are in the caves of Tasmania,” he said.

“I have been recording time-lapse imaging of glow-worms in the Mystery Creek Cave for a number of years.

“We have discovered that the larvae visually synchronise their glowing to create an intense group signal, increasing their likelihood of attracting prey.”

A program segment features glowworm footage from caves of southern Tasmania.

Associate Professor Merritt was able to help locate photogenic colonies in the Tasmanian caves and assist with close-up filming.

“Glowworms are easily disturbed and stop glowing if they detect noise or light so setting up cameras for close-up filming was challenging,” he said.

For time-lapse scenes, the film team used specialised light-sensitive cameras and motor-drives that guided the camera along a rail.

The challenges were physical as well as technical. Equipment had to be carried several kilometres through the forest into the cave every day.

 “When a time-lapse series was set to go we had to leave the cave for hours at a time, so we sat near the entrance where we were bitten by mosquitoes and harassed by large blowflies that liked to lay eggs on our backpacks.

“Once, we came out of the cave to find our gear covered with little maggots.”

The crew also shot footage of the spectacular blue bioluminescence of dinoflagellates in shore waters near Hobart and bioluminescent mushrooms in eucalyptus forests.

“These stunning bioluminescence sequences in the final documentary ‘shine a light’ on aspects of Australian ecosystems — the production of biological light — that many of us are unaware of,” Associate Professor Merritt said.

Attenborough’s Life That Glows” is available in Australia on July 6, 2016, and will be broadcast on ABC TV on 28 June at 8.30pm. It will be available on iView following.

Media: Associate Professor David Merritt,, +61 7 3365 3478

Last updated:
21 June 2016