Did you know
that fireflies are also known as lightning bugs? Fireflies are a
type of nocturnal (active at night) beetle. They're called
fireflies because in some species the adult creates flashes of light
to attract a mate. Here's a fascinating fact. Did you
know the ancient Chinese sometimes put fireflies in see-through
containers and used them as lanterns?
The glow of a
firefly is created by two substances called luciferin and luciferase. These
substances work together to turn oxygen into light. A firefly's glow may be
orange, red or yellow.
fireflies use chemicals to create their flashing light, the
communication between them occurs visually. Mating between fireflies takes place in the summer
in the evenings. The male firefly flies over the grass and flashes his light,
while the female rests in the grass and responds with her light. Although fireflies
of different species may be flying near one another, female fireflies only
respond to the males of their species. After this courtship ritual, the male and
female firefly mate.
Males fly about
flashing their species specific flash pattern. Females of the same species are
often sitting on vegetation located near the ground. If a flashing male
catches a female's fancy, she will respond at a fixed time delay after the last
male's flash. A short flash dialogue may occur between the male and female as
the male locates her position and descends to mate.
Fireflies produce light
from a chemical reaction
consisting of luciferin (a substrate) combined with luciferase (an enzyme), ATP
(adenosine triphosphate) and oxygen. When these components are added together, light is
their light for other purposes than mating. Many scientists
larvae use their luminescence as a warning signal. It tells predators that they taste bad because they have
defensive chemicals in their bodies. These larvae also increase both the
intensity and frequency of their glow when disturbed.
Like beetles, fireflies' front wings are thick,
hard, protecting covers called elytra. These elytra protect the firefly's soft,
delicate rear wings. It is important that these wings be protected because the
firefly uses them for flight. This characteristic of having elytra is common to
beetles, not flies. When a firefly is resting on the ground its elytra rest on
its back and appear as a solid piece of exoskeleton, or external skeleton. But
when the firefly flies, the elytra lift, and the rear wings carry the firefly
into the air. Firefly elytra are usually dull brown or black and thick,
smooth, and shiny.
Most fireflies grow to be about one inch (2
1/2 centimeters) in length. Its body is divided into the three main parts of
head, thorax (middle section), and abdomen (tail section).
On its head, the
firefly has a pair of antennae and a pair of eyes which help it to learn about
its surroundings. The eyes of the male are especially large and are used to help
him find females. Like other beetles, the firefly has strong, biting
mandibles, or jaws. The firefly uses its mandibles to cut, pierce, and chew its
food. Its other mouthparts are used to help the firefly taste and swallow.
Most firefly larvae are found in rotting
wood or other forest litter or on the edges of streams and ponds at night. Some
Asian species are fully aquatic (due to the presence of tracheal gills) and live
underwater, feeding on aquatic snails. |
Adult fireflies are found in the same general habitats as their larvae.
Generally speaking, the highest number of firefly species are found in warm,
humid areas of the world. Some species, however, are found in very dry regions
of the world. In these arid regions, larvae and adults can be easily found
following rains. The greatest number of firefly species (highest species
diversity) are found in tropical Asia, Central America, and South America. Fireflies inhabit warm humid areas throughout the world.
The baby fireflies are called larvae and
eat worms, snails, and slugs. The larvae live in the ground and look like grubs.
The diet of the
mature adult fireflies is somewhat of a mystery. Adult fireflies are
sometimes predatory (they use their glow to attract other types of fireflies and
then eat them). Fireflies also drink nectar. The Asian firefly lives in the water and only eats snails.
After their courtship ritual, the male and
female firefly mate. The female then lays her fertilized eggs individually in
leaves, grass, or soil. Young fireflies hatch from their eggs as tiny, worm-like
larvae with many body segments and many legs. The larvae are called
glowworms. They feed over the summer and then burrow beneath the ground
and live there until spring (some species live underground for many
years). They come out in spring and feed for a few weeks.
Then they pupate for about two to three weeks and turn into adults.
They live for a short time and spend all of
their time in the mating process. Shortly after mating, the female lays her
fertilized eggs. Typically, the eggs of the glowworm are laid
one at a time or in pairs. After two to four weeks, young
glowworm larvae hatch from the eggs and continue developing.
The adult firefly has an average
life span of two to three weeks.
Other Interesting Facts |
- There are more than 2000
species of firefly.
- A firefly's ability to create
light is called bioluminescence.
- In the daytime, fireflies that glow rest on
vegetation. Species that donít glow are usually active during the day and
might be seen feeding at flowers.
- Fireflies are very soft-bodied for
beetles. The body is large, somewhat elongate and rounded at both ends.
Not all members of the firefly family give off light as adults. For example,
adults of most North American species found west of the Rocky Mountains do not
Fireflies are nocturnal in their behavior, and
males commonly fly about in the evening during early summer.
Brahman, Mark. "Habitat and
Range." 9 March 2006 <http://iris.biosci.ohio-state.edu/projects/FFiles/frfact.html>.
"Firefly." Wikipedia. 15
April 2006 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fireflies>.
"Firefly." Yahoo. 12 March 2006
"Firefly." 10 March 2006
sasweb2.epnet.com/resultlist.asp?>. (Link no longer available)
Lloyd, James E. "Firefly" World Book Online Reference Center. 8
March 2006 <http://www.worldbookonline.com/wb/printarticle?id=ar197840&st=firefly>.
Permission to use photograph
of firefly glowing is granted under the terms of the GNU
Free Documentation License from Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page>.
Copyrighted animations of fireflies from "Animation Factory" <http://www.animationfactory.com/>
March, 2006. Animations are not in the public domain and are available
only to members.