Wild Things: Fascinating Facts About Fireflies

The twilight twinkle of fireflies, or lightning bugs, is one of the sure signs of summer. Most of us have fond memories of spending warm summer nights chasing them around the yard. Fireflies are fascinating creatures, but they’re not really flies – they’re beetles.

The Lampyridae are a family of insects in the beetle order Coleoptera. The winged beetles are known for their conspicuous use of bioluminescence during twilight to attract mates.

There are many species of fireflies. In the United States, there are about 136 species, while DuPage County has only three, according to Abby Dean, a naturalist at Fullersburg Nature Education Center in Oak Brook. Each species has its own pattern of flashes to distinguish it from other species. Usually it’s the male that flies around open areas while the female usually perches on the ground or a bush. If she likes what she sees, she will respond with her own set of flashes.

Dean said it’s OK to catch fireflies and put them in a jar, but keep the jar moist with a damp paper towel, and don’t keep them for a long time “because they’ve got work to do.”

Some interesting facts about fireflies:

● Fireflies west of the Rocky Mountains do not flash.

● Photinus carolinus are the only firefly species in America that flash simultaneously, and one great place to see them is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. * 

● A chemical called luciferin inside their abdomen/tail combines with oxygen, calcium and adenosine triphosphate to cause a chemical reaction that creates their spectacular light. *

● The light produced by the firefly is the most efficient light ever made. Almost 100 percent of the energy in the chemical reaction is emitted as light; in comparison, an incandescent light bulb only emits 10 percent of its energy as light, the other 90 percent is lost as heat. *

● Fireflies taste disgusting: Predators looking for a light meal quickly discover fireflies taste very bad. Firefly blood contains lucibufagins, a defensive steroid that tastes really gross. Predators associate the bad taste with a firefly’s light and learn not to eat bugs that glow. *

● Fireflies light up the underworld, or underground, at least. Some firefly babies emit a subterranean glow. Among some species, even the eggs glow. *

● Firefly populations are declining, most likely due to habitat loss, light pollution and insecticides. 

Listen to Dean talk more about fireflies on on Wild Things on WDCB Radio (90.9 FM).  

* Source: Mother Nature News  

      

Image © www.firefly.org
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