Growing up as a child, I looked forward to summer: longer days, staying out later than usual, no school, sleeping in, swimming at the pool, and…lightening bugs! I fell in love with the mystery of lightening bugs. I spent hours chasing and catching them; I thought of them as my own personal stars to wish upon–to capture them was to capture magic. Ashamedly, I must admit that I suffocated my fair share in jars or did irreparable damage making rings with these amazing creatures. I hadn’t given much thought to my crimes as a child until the dog I recently inherited from my daughter, Alle, began snapping them up as I watched in horror! Unfortunately, this is just one of my new friend’s bad habits that I will be spending my time correcting…
There are estimated to be more than 2000 species of lightening bugs, or fireflies, as they are often also called, inhabiting every continent except Antarctica. Emanating from the abdomen/tail, the light emitted by some of these species is green, some an amber flicker, and some emit no light at all; some simply glow with a green or blue light! Typically it is the male who flies around, lighting the night as a mating call to the female, who lounges in the trees. If she is so inclined, she will light up after the male’s last emission to signify that she is a willing participant.
What causes lightening bugs to light up? The magic of two chemicals that are found in the tail/abdomen: luciferase and luciferin, which light up in the presence of ATP, the energy currency molecule of the cell that every animal possesses. When these chemicals are injected into diseased cells of humans, they detect changes in cells that are useful in studying diseases such as muscular dystrophy and cancer. Amazingly, spacecraft has also been fitted with electronic detectors built from these chemicals to detect life in outer space. On the earth, they are used to help detect bacterial contamination.
The light emitted by the lightening bug is considered “cold light” because it doesn’t produce any heat. It is exceptionally efficient, as 100% of the energy is emitted as light. Compare this to an incandescent bulb, which emits only 10% of its energy as light and the rest as heat. No wonder incandescent bulbs are no longer produced!
After mating, the female deposits eggs onto the ground, typically under tree bark and/or in a moist place. The larvae then feed on snails, slugs, and earthworms. They are able to do this because of the chemical they inject into their prey, which paralyzes it and aids in digestion. The adults may feed on pollen and plant nectar, or may not eat at all, as they only live long enough to mate and lay eggs. Some females are quite the actresses, as they trick males of another species into thinking they want to mate. As soon as he lands, he becomes a meal. Best case scenario is that a lightening bug will live for a year.
Sadly, lightening bugs appear to be disappearing! Most likely this is due to light pollution and loss of habitat. Our forests and fields are diminishing because of development, and as our population grows, so does our need for electricity. Too much light at night interrupts the mating ritual of flickering or flashing. Both of these factors are having a negative impact on our population of lightening bugs.
At Lake of the Woods, we are fortunate to provide the perfect environment for these “stars of summer” to continue to shine. My wish is that our future generations will also have the opportunity to enjoy the magic and mystery of the “flying lights.”
Until next time…It’s another beautiful day at the lake!
Pat Licata, REALTOR
Licata on the Lake
References: firefly.org; backyardnature.net; trueorigin.org