Light Up the Night with Fireflies

| 6/22/2010 12:31:00 PM

S.CollinsAs a child I spent my summer days soaking up the warm sun by the pool and eating Popsicle after Popsicle. My nights consisted of my siblings, neighborhood kids and myself staying out at night playing hide-and-go-seek and catching fireflies. Summer officially started when the fireflies were out magically lighting up the meadow behind my house. Now, as a young adult, summer still begins when I see the first firefly of the season.

Fireflies, also known as lightning bugs, moon bugs, blinkies or glow worms, play a very important role in and out of the garden. As a young tyke, a firefly feeds on little fiends like slug and snail larvae, which can destroy a garden. As an adult, fireflies don’t bite, pinch or attack humans and do contain any types of poison. But, the insects do contain two rare chemicals called Luciferin and Luciferase that are used in cancer, multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis and heart disease research. These chemicals help the firefly produce light. The nocturnal insects spend their nights flying and lighting their tails to attract mates. Each species of lightning bug (there are over 136 species!) produce a unique pattern of flashes in order to attract the correct species.

Fireflies are a summertime favorite among many children.
Photo by James Jordan/Courtsey Flickr

But, like our friend the ladybug in The Lost Ladybug Project, the firefly population started to diminish in recent years—without a known cause. Researchers blame humans, especially development and light pollution, for the disappearance. The website Firefly: Enigmatic. Enchanting. Endangered. advocates that this mysterious disappearance needs to end. The website is filled with information about this problem.

Firefly website

Let’s start with the first major issue: development. Firefly larvae thrive in rotting wood and moist areas. Most species live in fields, forests and marshes. So when humans decided to pave over these firefly-rich lands, the insects could not survive. The second major issue is light pollution. Scientists think that lights from cars, houses and streetlights negatively affect a firefly’s light patterns. This interruption of patterns makes mating more difficult, which results in fewer larvae hatching in the spring.

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