Michael, who is from New Zealand, says photographing insects was a new experience—his work usually focuses on landscapes. That informed this project’s focus, he told Smithsonian.com: “[I looked] at it like a landscape, rather than individual insects. It’s interesting when you view the images upside down, for example. They give the viewer a whole different perspective.” The glowworm series, which Michael calls “Luminosity,” is part of a larger multi-media installation planned around the theme of bioluminescence.

(Joseph Michael)

The photos were created in four caves on New Zealand’s North Island: Nikau Cave,Waipu CaveRuakuri Cave and Spellbound. Some of the exposures took only five minutes, Michael says, while others required hours of standing in cold water. The prolonged time in the caves was a memorable experience for the photographer: “The moving water echoes through the cave system which creates quite a loud ambient noise level. After a while the sound of the water becomes a constant hum … When you come out of the cave after a long night of photographing, the songs of insects and birds outside felt sharpened and intensified.”

The project also gave Michael a new appreciation for the wonders of New Zealand. “Growing up here, like most things in this spectacular country I thought [the glowworm] was just a regular thing to see,” he says. “As I’ve traveled to many interesting places around the world, I’ve begun to realize more and more how amazing and unique this little island in the South Pacific is.”

(Joseph Michael)

Bioluminescence isn’t the only natural wonder Michael’s been documenting—he’s also been taking photographs of icebergs, which will be projection-mapped onto major buildings in a 2016 project. Michael calls it a “cinematic collision of nature and architecture.” “The bioluminescence work was a nice chance to take my mind off the icebergs for a little while,” he says.

(Joseph Michael)

Several of New Zealand’s glowworm caves are open for visitors, who can explore them by foot or by boat. And while a trip to New Zealand is necessary to seeArachnocampa luminosa, they’re far from the world’s only species of glowworm. A similar species, the North American Orfelia fultoni, known more commonly as Dismalites, is found in Alabama’s Dismal Canyon, among other places in Appalachia. Both species offer the chance to see just how beautiful a gnat can be.

(H/T This is Colossal)