Fireflies! Lightning Bugs! Winged Beetles!

Fort Lewis Lodge PavilionA warm summer evening just isn’t the same without lightning bugs.

These winged beetles, also called fireflies, thrive in western Virginia, where they’re drawn to trees, fields and marshes near the natural springs, streams, rivers and pools that are plentiful in the area.

The next time you’re at Fort Lewis Lodge, watching the meadows turn into a light show, think about these few fun facts about fireflies:

Fireflies emit light mostly to attract mates, but also to communicate with each other. They might flash to defend their space, or to warn predators away. The female will usually wait in trees or bushes until she spots a male, and then flashes her light to attract him.

Adult fireflies only live long enough to mate and lay eggs. The larvae live for about a year, until the next mating season.

The light emitted from fireflies is the most efficient in the world – more efficient than incandescent or fluorescent bulbs, which emit some of their energy as heat. Firefly light produces no heat.

A firefly lights up thanks to two chemicals in its tail – luciferase, an enzyme that triggers light emission and luciferin, which glows. The chemicals light up due to the presence of a third chemical, ADP, in the firefly’s body. In some species, the larvae and eggs glow, too.

The chemicals found in fireflies have been used in medical and scientific research, including to study cell changes in diseases such as cancer.  And electronic detectors fitted with the chemicals have been used to look for life in outer space.

There’s a species of fireflies found in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee that flash in synch with each other. The national park there schedules visitor viewings of the natural light show every June.

Too much light isn’t good for fireflies, which is why they’re more easily spotted in dark, natural areas free of light pollution. Artificial light interrupts fireflies’ abilities to signal each other, and that can disrupt the mating cycle. Scientists worry that’s leading to fewer fireflies.

To catch fireflies, act like them. Imitate their flashes with a flashlight or LED light, and catch them with a net. You can keep them in a jar with holes pierced in the lid (add a wet paper towel to keep it humid inside), but let them go after a day or two.

For even more information about fireflies, check out www.firefly.org.

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