Looking For Love In All The Light Places

August 27, 2009

Or The Light And Times Of A Firefly

Whether you call them fireflies or lightning bugs, summer nights wouldn’t be the same without them. Running around catching fireflies is a great evening game for kids!

Lightning bugs comes closer to being a more exact name than fireflies, however, because they’re not flies, they’re bugs. Fireflies are nocturnal members of the beetle family Lampyridae.

Of course, what makes them really special is that whole bioluminescence thing. They have specialized light-emitting organs that are usually located on the lower abdomen (kind of like a butt light, as opposed to a Bud Lite). It takes a mix of magnesium ions, ATP (adenosine triphosphate) and oxygen, along with the enzyme luciferase that acts on a biological pigment called luciferin to produce the light. (Wow! Sounds complicated, doesn’t it?)

It doesn’t matter how they do it, watching fireflies little lights wink on and off while listening to the night sounds of birds and frogs and such on a sultry summer night is downright magical.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, this is a mating ritual. With most species of North American Lightning Bugs, the males are flying flashers, flashing their butt light in hopes of attracting a girl firefly.

The girls, being more demure, are usually near the ground, perched on some vegetation. If she sees a flasher to her liking, she flashes back right after she sees the male’s last flash. (Yep, the male is looking for love in all the light places!)

They continue to send flash messages back and forth (sort of like texting with light) as the male flies closer and closer. If all goes well and they don’t get their signals crossed, they mate.

Fireflies (lightning bugs) mating.

If their signals DO get crossed, likely it was because the fireflies weren’t of the same species. Each type of Lightning Bug has a special flash pattern all its own so they can be sure to attract that special someone of their own species. There are all kinds of flash patterns, from a continuous glow, single flashes or a whole series of different length flashes.

The females deposit their eggs in the ground, under bark, and in moist swampy places. The larvae hatch out and feed on worms and slugs by injecting them with a special chemical that paralyze the prey and helps digest it.  (I think I’ll stick to thinking about the adult fireflies. . .)

The adults, meanwhile, typically feed on nectar or pollen. Some species of adults do not eat at all, but they can live several months. They don’t have to worry too much about being eaten themselves, since most fireflies taste really bad and sometimes are even poisonous.

That ensures them more time to light up the summer nights.

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