Fireflies, Warm Weather, and Bioluminescence

Firefly, firefly beetle, glow fly, flow worm, moon bug, golden sparkler, fire devil, blinkie, and lightning bug are all names for the lampyridae beetle. It is clear where fireflies got their name, as they produce a flashing glow as they fly through the air on warm summer nights. What actually causes fireflies to glow?

There are a few types of bioluminescent insects, but
fireflies are the most popular! Bioluminescence is a term for a chemical
reaction taking place within the body that allows the organism to glow. There
are more than 1,500 species of bioluminescent marine organism, including
jellyfish, algae, and sea stars. Luciferin, an organic compound found within
the firefly’s abdomen, is responsible for their namesake glow. This chemical
reaction produces very little heat, so this is called a ‘cold light.’ Fireflies
can create their pulsing glow by regulating the amount of airflow going into
their abdomen which reacts with the luciferin. Some species of fireflies can
even glow as eggs, emitting light as they react to stimuli such as gentle
tapping or vibrating. Bioluminescence is of huge benefits to animals, helping
to lure prey or avoid predators, and communicate within the species!

The glow of the firefly is an important method of
communication! A flashing firefly warns potential predators how bitterly
fireflies taste.  They produce defensive steroids
that make them unpalatable to hungry frogs, spiders and birds.  Glowing as eggs is especially beneficial to
fireflies, helping to ensure that the larvae reach adulthood.  The glow of fireflies also aids reproduction,
helping to identify members of the opposite sex and specific species. Female
fireflies choose mates depending on flash patterns. High flash rate males with
higher flash intensity have proven to be more attractive to females. A
firefly’s glow serves a much greater purpose than looking pretty!

Fireflies have short lifespan, averaging around 2 months
once they reach adulthood. The larvae stage, or immature insect form, of the
firefly lasts 50 to 100-weeks. Firefly eggs can be found in rotting trees,
soil, or water. Maturing during the spring and early summer, most fireflies
reach adulthood from the third week of May to the third week of June. Fireflies
feed on sails, slugs and pill bugs, all which are brought out with rain, so the
rainfall and air temperature has a great impact on when fireflies emerge.
Moist, humid regions of Asia and the Americas are the best habitat for these
muggy weather lovers. Fireflies are cold-blooded beetles, so as the weather
begins to cool, their flashes slow. Once the weather reaches 50⁰F
fireflies will cease flashing and flying. Fireflies are truly bugs of summer!

Many of us have pleasant childhood memories of catching
fireflies on summer evenings, but the firefly is disappearing. As open fields
and forests are developed for human use, the habitat of the firefly is being
compromised. Use of insecticides, logging and pollution have also shown to be
affecting firefly populations. Light pollution, or the amount of artificial
light being used by humans at night, is impacting the firefly’s ability to communicate
with each other. It is becoming more difficult for fireflies to attract mates,
defend their territory, or ward off predators. Fireflies are awe inspiring,
fascinating creatures. Their loss would be a huge impact to their habitats and
future generations of firefly catchers.

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