Fireflies


Firefly beetle from Bangalore, India

Image via Wikipedia

Maybe I like the name “lightning bugs” more. Not sure. But in my never-ending quest to learn about things I’ve long forgotten, here are some facts about fireflies.

They’re beetles, actually. And they use bioluminescence to attract mates and prey. Their light is considered a “cold” light, according to Wikipedia, with no infrared or ultraviolet frequencies. A firefly’s light can be yellow, green, or pale red.

And this I swear I never knew (like a lot of things these days) — firefly larvae are often called “glowworms.” Like the song. When fireflies are infants, though, the glowing warns away predators, apparently, as many firefly larvae contain chemicals that don’t taste so good or are actually toxic.

It was once thought that fireflies were warning off predators even as adults, but this is no longer the case. Most scientists believe that they’re selecting and attracting mates. Their abdominal light actually communicates something to their mates.

This is way too high-level description, of course, because we know that in some species only males light up. The females stay home, I’m not sure why. They can’t fly. Some species don’t light up at all, but do use pheromones. In these cases, scientists say that lightning bugs don’t even have to see where they’re going! Males can find females blindfolded. I don’t know how they did this, exactly, but I believe them.

Regardless of all that, the first lightning bugs of the year signal the real first day of summer for me.

I saw my first firefly of the year Monday night, May 31st. And in Virginia, where I am sometimes, they’re sporadic and surprising. I had a home in Ohio for a while, and at night, on the big great hill where my house was, I could look down on thousands of fireflies. I don’t count so well anymore, either, so maybe it’s even millions.

Nonetheless, lightning bugs communicate with me. I was so excited about seeing my first ones the other night that I went to sleep and dreamt that I was catching them in a jar and lighting up my bedroom.

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