Nature’s Fireworks by Deb Carey

Lightning bugs flash light to attract the opposite sex using a chemical called luciferase. There are over 136 species of lightning bugs, each with a distinctive rate of flashes per second. Male lightning bugs flash patterns of light to females who then signal in response from perches in or near the ground. When the male sees the female’s flash, he continues to signal and moves closer until they finally find each other and mate.

Lightning bugs are actually a type of beetle that is very beneficial in our ecosystem. The larvae stage of this beetle is a specialized predator that feeds on other insect larvae, earthworms, snails, and slugs. The tiny larval stage is dark gray with three pairs of legs and tiny spots on their underside that sometimes softly glow. Some adult lightning bug species are also predators, and other species don’t eat at all in the adult stage.

No great explosion of sound and sight
just a silent and elegant light.
As the firefly’s graceful zigzag flight
opens the door to the velvet night.

Large swarms of lightning bugs are a less frequent occurrence in many areas. They are most prevalent away from city lights and in more open areas of vegetation.

According to firefly.org firefly populations are dwindling all over the country and the world. Researchers are not sure exactly what is causing the firefly decline, although most researchers think that habitat loss and light pollution from urban development are to blame.

Most fireflies need undisturbed natural areas to survive. They overwinter as larvae buried in the soil and hide during the day under bark or stones or in decaying vegetation. Mud is needed for the pupal stage. Human light pollution is believed to interrupt firefly flash patterns and thus their mating rituals.

The next time you see one of these magical insects, think about how they are more than just funny flashers. They benefit our ecosystem and are also beneficial to humans. Their luciferase has been genetically engineered as an enzyme that helps screen for human tumors, test for blood problems, and detect infections faster.

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