You probably know what a firefly is, although maybe you might not have seen one in person before. Fireflies are species of beetle, also commonly known as a lightning bug. These bugs generally feed on pollen and nectar, but there’s also another variety of firefly, where the hungry female consumes the male. Not too nice and I have to say I’m glad that I’m not a firefly.
A common glow-worm firefly (Lampyris noctiluca) larva eating a snail. © Heinz Albers.
They produce light
The firefly’s most notable trait is the light producing organs on the underside of their bodies that are noticeable during their flight, prompting their rise in popular culture. Another way to look at it, perhaps a better, happier thought about the firefly, is that for some the firefly represents a symbolic awakening, representing the light which is in all of us, that what is on the outside is not as valuable as what shines from the inside. I’m honestly not sure from where that comes from if that’s some kind of ancient proverb, but it has a pleasant tone to it.
It a signal to the opposite sex
A female Photuris firefly eating a beetle. © Joyce Gross.
The flashing patterns that they make, especially in flight, serve as a beacon to the opposite sex, a mating call you might say. In this way, they get together and procreate. The light of a firefly is also said to be one of their defensive mechanisms to ward off predators and to tell would-be predators that they have a bitter taste. I am not sure which creatures would want to eat a firefly, but I know I would not want to eat a firefly. Not even a chocolate covered firefly. Another fascinating scientific fact about the firefly, is that the light that they give off, has virtually no heat and is fundamentally a cold light.
What do they eat?
When a firefly is in the larva stage, they consistently give off a glow. Some firefly species also are known to eat their own larvae, as well as the larvae of other insects, slugs, earthworms, small bugs and snails. One species located in the tropics, has mandibles which when injected into the victim, deliver a dose of digestive fluid. Certainly doesn’t sound pretty. Female Photurisfireflies on the other hand, flash light to attract their male friends so that they could eat them!
A female Photuris firefly devours a male Photinus to obtain defensive compounds called lucibufagins. © Thomas Eisner.
It’s hard to see them
Interestingly, some groups of fireflies which live together in Asia have somehow learned the ability to flash their light together in groups creating a visual symphony of light. I think that would be an wondrous thing to see. Since fireflies mainly make their habitat in the tropical regions, unless you live in the jungle, it is unlikely that you will get to view them firsthand.
It’s a unique animal
Fireflies are one of those types of species, where new species are being found all the time, so our understanding of this little creature continues to grow. The only creature that is similar to the firefly, in that they also glow, is the glowworm.
We can learn a thing or two from them
Finally, we may owe a debt to the firefly because the firefly is also used in human medical research, in the detection of blood clots. So the next time you either see a firefly, read about one, or perhaps see some pictures, take a moment and appreciate it.
More on beetle’s family
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