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Arachnocampa luminosa is found in New Zealand, in both the North and South islands. Its Māori name is titiwai, meaning "projected over water". The Waitomo Caves in the North Island near Pirongia is one well-known habitat, the caves having become a popular tourist attraction. It was first known to science in 1871 when collected from a gold mine in the Thames region. At first it was thought to be related to the European glowworm beetle, but in 1886 a Christchurch teacher showed it was a larva of a gnat, not a beetle. The species was called Bolitiphila luminosa in 1891, before being renamed Arachnocampa in 1924. A species of harvestman preys on the A. luminosa eggs, larvae and pupae, and even the adult flies. A fungus also affects A. luminosa; it gradually kills the larva. Fungus spores are spread by air movement, but since the larvae live out of the wind the spread of spores is limited. Arachnocampa luminosa is found only in New Zealand.

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