Wild Fact #966 – Fire in the Sky – Fireflies


Photo compliments of http://christaisgoingtonyc.wordpress.com/2008/08/

Who wants to go on a trip with me? You know what, I want all of you to join me on a trip down memory lane! I will set the flashback up for you.  You are 8 years old and super excited because it is the middle of summer, which of course means No School! It is one of those beautiful, warm, mid-summer nights and you are hanging out with your brother, sister or some friends.  You are playing outside (remember the days when kids still did that?) and all of a sudden you see a sparkle of light in the sky…..and again…. and again! By this time you have called your friends over who are now looking for a jar because it is time to go and catch some fireflies.

All right, come back to reality with me.  Now it is 2009 and you are reading a great blog about animal facts! By this point you are probably hoping that a Wild Fact will be on fireflies.  Well, sit back and enjoy because here comes your Firefly Wild Fact.

There are many different species of fireflies and not all of them emit a blinking light.  I won’t get into the details of what causes this light but I will tell you that it is a chemical reaction created in specialized light-emitting organs. I always find the “why” question to be more interesting then the “how” so let’s discuss why fireflies emit this light.  For the most part, adult fireflies use this light to locate similar species of fireflies for reproduction.  Different species of fireflies have different light patterns which obviously are used to distinguish between species. The male firefly of certain groups, such as the genus Photinus, which are common in North America, will fly around the night sky emitting their light pattern.  Females of this same group are unable to fly so when they see the male flying above they will give him a quick flash allowing him to come down and mate.

Certain fireflies have evolved and adapted to take advantage of the friendly Photinus firefly mating habits.  Fireflies from the genus Photuris will sit on the ground and mimic the females of the Photinus group. What is the purpose for this? Well, when the male sees a response from a female counterpart he goes in for some loving, however, he will soon realize that he has been tricked by a predatory firefly and will pay the ultimate price with his life.

So what about the larvae of fireflies? Do they glow? Well, all fireflies glow as larvae (even the ones that don’t glow as adults).  Because of this, the larvae are often called “Gloworms”.  Some people may remember this toy by the same name.  It looked like a caterpillar with wings and when you pushed on it, they would light up.  I might be aging myself with this one! Anyway, back to the Wild Fact.  You may have guessed that the larvae do not mate so why do they need to glow? It is suspected that the glowing nature of the larvae warns predators to stay away since most larvae contain chemicals that are toxic or just downright disgusting.

Well, I hope you enjoyed today’s fact and will think of this the next time you are watching the little fireflies put on a light show for you. As well, I would like to thank my dad for his question about fireflies which inspired today’s Wild Fact.

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