Friday, July 19, 2013

GMG's Friday Find: Fireflies! Let Your Love Light Shine

Here in the northeast many people are reporting an abundance of firefly activity.  Known also as lightning bugs, these fascinating insects are neither flies or true bugs, but are winged beetles.  The resurgence this year seems to be directly related to the amount of moisture as fewer were seen during the drought of years past.

Here are a few interesting facts about fireflies:

Fireflies talk to each other with light - When you see all the flickering lights at dusk and into the evening, fireflies are communicating with each other and predators as well.  For predators their light says, "don't eat me, I taste bad".  Most of the fireflies we see lighting up the night sky are males signaling to females who wait in trees, shrubs and grasses.  If the female is interested, she signals back with a flash of her own. But the males have to be careful as a carnivorous femmes fatales genus mimics the female firefly and quickly eats males attracted to her.  One false flash and bye bye.

Firefly eggs glow - Adults aren't the only ones who glow. In some species even the larvae and eggs emit light when responding to tapping or vibrations.

Fireflies don't live long -  An adult firefly only lives long enough to mate and lay eggs.  This may be the reason why scientists aren't even sure what adults eat. Their larvae eat snails and worms and live for about a year underground, from mating season to mating season.  Once they emerge as adults, no time for munching, only mating!

Fireflies are medically and scientifically useful - The two chemicals in the firefly's tail that create 'cold' light are luciferase and luciferin.  These chemicals can be helpful in the study of many diseases, from cancer to muscular dystrophy.  But that's not all they're used for. Electronic detectors built with these chemicals have been fitted into spacecraft to detect life in outer space, as well as food spoilage and bacterial contamination on earth.

Whether you know them as lightening bugs or fireflies, these are beneficial insects.  They don't bite, have no pincers, don't carry disease, are not poisonous and they don't even fly very fast--one of the reasons kids love to catch them. Punching holes in a jar lid and observing them for a brief while before releasing is a great way to watch their flashy light show.  Although the numbers of fireflies have diminished, we can enjoy their luminescent lights by providing the environment that help them flourish: low outdoor lighting, trees and shrubs for protection, and less pesticide so we can continue to enjoy the firefly fireworks for years to come.

~Peggy
Garden Media Group



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