Most of us probably have a general idea of what fireflies are and maybe some of us have even caught them as children–putting them in mason jars for a little while. But what do you know about these fascinating creatures?
Here are some facts:
1. First off, lightning bugs or fireflies are not bugs or flies–they are BEETLES. In the insect world it is true that every bug is an insect but it ISN’T true that every insect is a bug. Bugs are one kind of insect, just as butterflies and ants are two others. Beetles are the most plentiful group of animals on the planet, with more than 300,000 species. They actually outnumber all the plants on Earth! A firefly is one of these 300,000.
2. There are 2000 species of fireflies in the world and interestingly, not all produce light. The ones that do, do so to attract a mate and it’s usually the males who are flashing, though the females sometimes respond by flashing back in response. Fireflies “talk” to each other with light flashes.
3. Each species has its own flash pattern. It might be two short flashes followed by a long one or three quick flashes, or one flash, etc. Scientists can identify the species based on the flash pattern. There is even a type of firefly called a Blue Ghost that stays lit, rather than flashing.
4. In some places fireflies synchronize their flashing. This is AMAZING!! I have seen it 4 times now–in Great Smoky Mountains National Park–and highly recommend it to anyone interested in being inspired and witnessing something magical. Click HERE to learn about some other places where you can see synchronous fireflies.
5. In some species of fireflies, the larvae also glow, as do the eggs! Sometimes you can see the developing larvae inside the eggs and they flash inside the egg!
6. The larvae –which live for a year to two years–of fireflies are carnivorous. They eat snails, worms and other soft-bodied invertebrates. Some even follow the slime trails of snails and slugs, paralyzing them with a bite before feasting on them. Scientists are not sure what many adults eat, or even if they eat at all, especially since they only live a few weeks.
7. The light of fireflies is often referred to as cold light because it is 100% light, with no heat. It is the most efficient light in the world! This is amazing when you compare it to our light bulbs: An incandescent bulb produces only 10% light energy–the rest is heat. A fluorescent bulb is better with 90% light energy.
8. The light is caused by a chemical reaction within the body of the firefly. According to Scientific American “When oxygen combines with calcium, adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and the chemical luciferin in the presence of luciferase, a bioluminescent enzyme, light is produced.”
9. Fireflies live on every continent except Antarctica. Fireflies live in moist areas, especially at the edges where water in a pond, lake, stream or river meets a forest or field.
10.One species of firefly –called Photuris–eats other fireflies. The female responds to a male’s signal and when the unsuspecting male arrives looking to get lucky, he instead gets eaten! Yikes! Aren’t you glad you’re not a firefly?
11. When confronted by a predator, fireflies have “reflex bleeding” meaning they shed drops of blood that taste bitter and can be toxic. The light warns predators that they are not as tasty as they look! Frogs, toads, spiders, birds, and bats will eat them anyway.
Here are some other resources about Fireflies: