And you thought “Flashing” was something people got locked up for. Guess what? It’s going on in your own backyard.
Fireflies or Lightning Bugs (depending on what part of the country you’re from) are actually beetles that live most of their lives underground or at ground level. Eggs are laid in moist soil and after the larva stage (when they are also called “glowworms”) they will emerge from the ground and spend the next one to three years surviving on slugs, worms, and other soft bodied larvae. Decaying organic material and moist soil are ideal for them to survive these first years.
Turn the lights off, create a dark moist environment for eggs to be laid, and then sit back and enjoy the show.
Once an adult, the firefly emerges from the ground armed with a sexy substance in the lower part of it’s body called luciferin* (a bioluminescent, meaning it doesn’t give off heat). It is what allows fireflies to glow and find love. They fly over our lawns or meadows sending off flashes of light to attract a mate. (And we thought they were just doing it for our enjoyment!) Interestingly, only males are able to fly even though the females have wings. However, the females have the power to choose their mate by flashing once for “yes” or twice for “no”.
In the Northeast Firefly Season is
between Memorial Day and Labor Day
There are over 2,000 species of lightning bugs worldwide and 175 in the U.S., and each has its own unique flashing pattern. Their ability to flash not only helps find them a suitable mate, it also lets predators know to stay away (thankfully, the firefly has a very unappetizing taste!) So, clearly, these intermittent flashes of light which entertain us are extremely important to the firefly’s survival. After choosing her male and mating the adult female will lay her eggs and the cycle will start over.
The firefly is only an adult for one season so please don’t collect them or it could destroy the cycle.
How lightning bugs help us and how we can help them:
*Luciferin and luciferase, two rare chemicals present in lightning bugs are used for cancer research, antibiotic testing, and research for heart disease, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, and muscular dystrophy. The luciferase enzyme is used by forensic investigators to swab for blood traces left on surfaces at crime scenes and blood banks use the it to test their stock to determine if the red blood cells are beginning to break down. Also NASA uses lightning bug chemicals with special electronic detectors to look for earth-life forms in outer space.
Unfortunately, due to human encroachment on habitat and increased light pollution, fireflies are disappearing. Here are some great links to learn more about fireflies and information on how you can help save them:
Here’s a cute You Tube video about Lightening Bugs or Fireflies.