24 Magic of fireflies

Jan 17, 2021 ggektjdq

first_imgVolume XXIXNumber 1Page 24 By Nancy C. HinkleUniversity of GeorgiaFireflies, or lighting bugs, as they’re commonly known, areneither flies nor bugs. They’re beetles.As spring evenings warm, fireflies arrive to entertain us withtheir courtship performances, remaining until the chill of winterkills them off. They’re not only pleasant reminders of childhoodplay but a reassurance of environmental health as well.These nocturnal fliers have light-producing organs at the rear ofthe abdomen. Within these structures, two chemicals combine toproduce light in a process that’s virtually 100-percent energyefficient, so no heat is generated. The resulting light may begreenish, orange or yellow.Cruisin’Georgia’s lightning bugs start flying on warm spring evenings.The fireflies patrolling are males, scanning for mates. In theircourtship, females sit on vegetation and send out their lightsignals, which males cue in on.Each firefly species has a distinctive flash pattern, lasting fora specific time and with a definite interval between pulses. Thisallows the sexes to identify one another.In a deceptive strategy, some female fireflies mimic otherfirefly species’ flash patterns, luring in foreign males. Thesepredatory females then eat the hapless males. Male fireflies feedon nectar and pollen.Glimmer, glimmerFirefly larvae generate light, too. They’re called glowworms.Looking like aliens from outer space, these flattened,soft-bodied creatures have broad plates down their backs.Because they’re susceptible to dehydration, glowworms gravitateto moist areas, especially low-lying spots around streams andmarshes.On dark nights, glowworms may be seen crawling in leaf litter orrotting logs. They feed on slugs, snails and earthworms,injecting a toxin that paralyzes prey several times larger thanthemselves.YuckChildren who catch fireflies often notice a distinct odor left ontheir hands after the lightning bug is released. The beetleproduces this chemical to repel predators.Georgia has several dozen firefly species, ranging from less thanhalf an inch to almost an inch long. Our most common species areblack or gray with white, yellow and red markings.Because each species has its own flight style and flash pattern,anyone can study and identify the different species inhabiting anarea.One species flies very high, dancing among the treetops. Anotherflies just out of human reach, dipping in a J-shaped swoop as itflashes. On rainy evenings, tiny woods-inhabiting fireflies mimicfairy lanterns bouncing around in knee-high flight.(Nancy Hinkle is an Extension Service entomologist with theUniversity of Georgia College of Agricultural and EnvironmentalSciences.)last_img

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