Oh Firefly, Where Art Thou?
The firefly, otherwise known as the Lightening Bug is what I believe to be one of God's most fascinating creations. I have memories as a kid running around after dark chasing these tiny blinking lights that were dashing and moving about. Especially when we were at the lake or out in the middle of a pasture by a pond, there would be so many of them twinkling everywhere among the brush and bushes.. How beautiful they were and so magical to watch! I don't recall ever catching them and putting them in a jar like others have because I rarely ever caught one. They seemed to move so quickly plus I was too afraid that if I tried to grab one that I would probably squash it to death but I did love to chase them around and watch them do their "dance".
What is a Firefly?
The firefly is actually a type of beetle that has wings and one of the more common ones in North America looks sort of like a sunflower seed. It's formal name is Lampyridae. There are actually many different types of them from all around the world but many of those live in North America. In general, fireflies prefer darker, humid areas. They seem to gravitate toward water, like around ponds or lakes. In many species both the female and the male can fly but in some species only the male can fly. The most fascinating thing about the firefly is their ability to light up but it is interesting to note that not all species of fireflies light up.
Why do Fireflies light up?
Fireflies are one of the most fascinating in the bug family because of their use of bioluminescence. This is just a fancy word for light that is emitted from a living organism. The light comes on as a result of a chemical reaction and is located under the lower abdomen of the firefly. The light is referred to as "cold light" because it does not produce heat. The light is used for a couple of different purposes. One of the main reasons they emit the light is to attract mates. Each species actually has its own flash pattern to attract mates of the same species. This helps the males and females to recognize one another. The other reason for the light is to warn enemies to stay away. The color of the light can be yellow, green or a very pale red and one species even has a bluish light. Even the larvae of a firefly glows and this is what some people refer to as a glow worm.
When do Fireflies come out?
Firefly larvae live underground through the winter and they start to grow in the Spring and emerge in early summer to mate. There is a period of about two weeks and it varies from year to year, which is the fireflies mating season. Scientists do not know why it varies so much but they think that temperature and soil moisture may have something to do with it. After mating, female fireflies lay their eggs in moist soil or under the moist bark of a tree and larvae hatches from the eggs in about 4 weeks and continue to develop through several stages until they finally emerge for mating season. This cycle typically takes about two years!
Great Firefly Video!
Have You Seen any Fireflies lately?
An increasing concern and for reasons that are not fully understood, fireflies are getting more and more scant not only across the United States but also around world. I have been looking for them every summer for years with no luck. The last time I saw one was about three years ago. It was dusk and I was walking to my car to go home from a meeting, beside the building was a small field and I noticed a little blinking light dancing around and realized it was a firefly! I started to feel all giddy and looked around thinking that surely there must be more of them but I was wrong. There was only one firefly. I was happy to know that they were not completely gone but I still can't help but wonder what has happened to all of our beautiful fireflies.
What is Happening to the Fireflies?
There are several theories as to why the fireflies are disappearing. Here are a few of the more common theories:
- Mosquito Control- Many cities and towns have special trucks that drive the streets in the neighborhoods and spray large doses of insecticide into the air which is supposed to help control the mosquitoes. A theory is that the insecticides could be killing the fireflies.
- Wacky Weather- The weather these past few years as been increasingly erratic especially here in Texas. We do not have much of a spring anymore. It just goes from cold to hot basically. Are the fireflies having a hard time adjusting to changes in weather patterns? Fireflies do only dwell in certain conditions. They tend to stay around areas that are warm and humid so perhaps it's just too hot for them or maybe the humidity level is either too low or high. Maybe it has changed too much and they just can't adapt?
- Lighting- Some people think maybe it is the lights in the city that is causing the fireflies not to see each others light patterns during mating season but fireflies have been seen inside city limits for years so apparently they do not have to have pitch dark in order to see each other to mate.
- Fire Ants- It is said that fire ants could be to blame for the disappearance of fireflies because they are known to eat the larvae of fireflies. Since the firefly larvae do live in the soil, it makes them a suitable snack for the fire ants.
Make a Firefly Habitat
Through data and research, it is suggested that fireflies tend to come back year after year to the same place. So if you are able to attract fireflies, you may be able to continue to have them return year after year, even if Joe Blow down the street never sees them in his yard at all. According to firefly.org, here are a few things that you can do to create a firefly habitat:
- Since they prefer darker places, try to keep any lights off on the exterior of your home at night. Also, shut the blinds or shades to minimize any light that comes from inside the house.
- Plant trees in your yard and if you already have trees, leave some of the fallen leaves and litter from the trees. Some species of larvae live under the bark of moist logs and under the litter of trees. Pine trees are ideal because they provide a lot of shade plus and they have a lot of litter accumulation.
- Most species of fireflies love to be around standing water so you may consider putting in a small pond or even a small stream or other water feature but make sure to avoid using any chlorine. It is suggested that fireflies eat the smaller insects, grubs and snails that thrive in natural ponds and streams.
- Avoid using an pesticides on your lawn and only use natural fertilizers.
- Don't over mow your yard. Fireflies prefer to be around long grasses. Try to incorporate a few patches of long grass into your landscape.
- If you don't already have them, introduce earth worms. Firefly larvae love devouring them. You can buy them in bulk at places online and also at bait shops, since they are used a lot for fishing bait.
- If you have neighbors, talk to your neighbors about your concern over the decreasing numbers of fireflies. Maybe they will hop on board and make some changes as well. The more people that get involved and make these changes, the more likely you will be seeing fireflies once again in your neighborhood.
How About You?
If you are interested in learning more about the fireflies, please visit firefly.org. It is a great website packed full of information about them. I can not help but ask, have you seen any fireflies in your neck of the woods lately? Please feel free to share in the comments section. Hopefully I have brought some awareness to the dwindling number of fireflies in our nation and around the world. I would love to hear your comments about fireflies or maybe you have a fond memory that you would like to share :0)
UPDATE 5/23/2012 :
I am happy to report that a few nights ago when I was dropping my stepdaughter off at her home in a suburb outside of Dallas TX, I saw some fireflies scattered here and there as I drove down the street in her neighborhood and then got to see a few in her yard. Yay! At least this time it wasn't just one :)