They’re coming. I find myself scanning the lawn, my garden, and Norway maple in my backyard every night at dusk, holding my breath and looking for them. Even as I write this blog, I pause between sentences and check out the window…just in case. It was this time last year when I saw the season’s first blinking light of a firefly, and I am anxiously awaiting its return. To many, fireflies (or lightning bugs as you may call them) bring back childhood memories of catching as many as we could and putting them in a jar to watch their amazing light show. We may all know and love the firefly for its greenish-yellow glow, but there’s much more to their flash than blinks the eye!
Despite their name, fireflies are actually a species of beetle that can be found on every continent except Antarctica. There are over 2,000 species of fireflies worldwide and an astounding 175 species here in the United States alone! Although not all adult fireflies produce light, all species of eggs and larvae (nicknamed glowworms) glow as a way of warning potential predators that they taste bad. The adults that do produce light do so in order to find not only a mate, but sometimes dinner in a most sinister way. Some fireflies copy the flashing patterns of other species in order lure them in and eat them!
Even the chemistry behind a firefly’s flash is amazing. Unlike bioluminescent animals which simply glow, the firefly’s ability to turn its light on and off (blink) is a rare find in nature. And the energy used to produce the light? In an incandescent light bulb, 10 percent of the energy that goes into the bulb is used to produce light, and the rest is emitted as heat. With fireflies, an astounding 90 percent of the energy goes into producing the light. Talk about the ultimate Energy Star appliance!
It’s getting darker now, and I’m still hoping that a bright yellow-green flash will catch my eye. Perhaps while I’m waiting, a recounting of a childhood or more recent memory will help pass the time. What are some of your favorite firefly stories? I need a distraction—this suspense is harder than waiting for Santa Claus!