I get lots of questions at work and from friends and relatives about insects. (Hey, you’re a “bug person”, what’s that thing that’s black and has legs and wings?) So I figured it was a pretty good sign when I had two separate occasions to be asked about fireflies and a really cool article comes out, all within the last week. So this post is all about the amazing fireflies. Depending on where you live, you may call them lightning bugs, even glowworms. Either way, they are not a fly, and not a bug, and definitely not a worm! They are beetles, family Lampyridae.
Of course they get the common name for the flashing light that the adults produce for (mostly) mating purposes. This light production is due to a chemical reaction of oxygen, luciferase, and luciferin, producing a “cold light” with no infrared or ultraviolet frequencies. As it starts to get dark at night, males fly low over vegetation, flashing their particular flash. When a female waiting below finds him particularly appealing, she will flash back and… well… happiness ensues!
There are around 2,000 firefly species in the world and some don’t produce light. These species are typically diurnal. I was asked this weekend if the larvae produce light. I didn’t know, so I looked it up! Turns out, all fireflies glow as larvae. Since the larval stage doesn’t reproduce, this feature is obviously not for mate-finding. It is a warning signal to predators that they are distasteful or even toxic.
Second thing that came across my desk on fireflies was an article on western fireflies. It is a common misconception (held by me up until I read it!) that fireflies were only east of the Rockies in the US. There ARE fireflies west! And a University of California, Riverside student discovered a new species. How cool!
Lastly, I was up visiting the in-laws this weekend and my favorite mother-in-law told me about watching a PBS segment on fireflies and she was so excited to tell me that she watched it and liked it! It was a story on fireflies and a very cool documentary (coming soon) on preserving fireflies and their habitat.
Fireflies are one of those insects that even people who profess to hate “bugs” still like. How can you not like the cute little bioluminescent buggers! There’s tons of great info out there, got a favorite? Comment below!