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Naturalist Notebook

Reviews and journal entries inspired by nature in West Central Illinois.
Fireflies - by HBee

Fireflies


This season has been a rather extraordinary one for the glowing bugs. I am treated nightly to quite a show. It seems there is more this year than before. A good thing for a species that has seen numbers decline.

The firefly is not actually a fly but a nocturnal member of the beetle family. In the order Coleoptera, the family name Lampyridae comes from the Greek lampesin or "to shine."

The chemical reactions they create in their bodies is now known as bioluminescence, and it occurs in other creatures around the world as well.

With this capability to make light, they can communicate with each other and find mates. Some species have specific flashing patterns and can even synchronize flashing. All the more fantastic the evening light shows can be. Some nights it is as if the stars have come to earth to twinkle.

Here in the Midwest, we have an especially good environment for these beetles. Not all parts of the US have fireflies, but there are distinct and unusual species in this family in other parts of the world.

When I was in the 5th and 6th grade, we were told to collect fireflies and send them into various organizations. Ads ran in newspapers from scientific companies urging youngsters to do so, and money could be earned. For some reason, I always thought we were sending them to NASA so they could be launched into space for experiments! NASA was interested for a while, but nothing ever came of it. Companies were harvesting the bugs for the chemical luciferase – the light-producing enzyme. These harvests could have led to the population decline of several species. However, this chemical has now been reproduced synthetically, and the bugs no longer need to be harvested.

So the bugs continue on, and I will never tire of enjoying this summertime past time of watching the shimmer and glow.At the end of a long day of working in the gardens or doing other necessary chores on this rural acreage, one of the pleasures I enjoy most in summer is sitting out on the deck in the evening and watching the fireflies.

Rose Moore – Master Naturalist Intern – June 2017

Photo Credit - Heather Baker AKA HBee


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