Like tiny, magical, Shakespearean sprites, fireflies light up the summertime night with romance, intrigue and biology.
These flies, which are not flies at all, but instead beetles, utilize their unique organs located under their abdomens to take in oxygen and combine it with luciferin, which allows them to create their famed bioluminescent light without heat. This light is what has made fireflies so famous. It’s their distinctive, romantic form of communicating with the opposite sex. Males use the light and their light patterns to entice females and females use their light to respond back. This elegant, amorous, love-light language has been likened to Morse code, conveying specific messages from one beetle to another. Still somewhat of a mystery to scientists who have been studying it for years, the light is nearly 100 percent efficient, making it among the most proficient light sources ever discovered.
With 170 plus species in North America and over 2000 worldwide, fireflies are insects considered to be a double threat; beautiful and useful. In their larval stage, they are carnivorous and eat other unwanted, soft-bodied insects that live in the ground such as snails, slugs and cutworms, which make them revered residents of backyard gardens both for their intrigue and their appetites.
With a relatively short life span, fireflies need to get to work as soon as they can and spread their light nightly in hopes of linking up with a suitable mate, this dance has become a constant and comforting summertime tradition, especially in New England. Waiting for night to come and the subtle hush of darkness, has meant firefly time for so many enjoying summer vacation here in Connecticut. If you are lucky enough to live near an untamed meadow or two, on the outskirts of wetlands (this is prime real estate for fireflies) then you are in firefly heaven and you probably have witnessed the spectacular cool green light show of these tiny insects; and most likely there’s been an instance or two when these beautiful beetles have been captured and put in jars to be used as camping night lights and beacons of natural beauty.
In recent years, there has been speculation that the firefly population has been declining due to light pollution, loss of habitat and the use of toxic pesticides, but their light is still shining strong and enjoyed and celebrated by many.
To entice fireflies to take up residency in your yard; turn off outside lights whenever you can, don’t mow your grass too short, let logs and leaves accumulate under trees so females can lay their eggs and avoid toxic pesticides and use natural fertilizers instead.