Ah, the gentle flash of a firefly; the hallmark of any early summer’s eve! Like tiny bursts of starlight, these pulses of white and green light punctuate the dark like the dots and dashes of Morse code.
Technically a beetle, these “lightening bugs” (another name for fireflies), possess a special organ in their abdomen capable of mixing of oxygen, a pigment called luciferin and the enzyme luciferase. When the insect flies upward, these chemicals mingle and create a flash. As the insect descends, the flash turns off. When a female of the same species sees the flash, she responds with her own light signal. Eventually the male and female fireflies find each other and mate. Some fireflies flash just once. Others emit “flash trails” of up to nine sequenced pulses. Still others create unique aerial displays by dive bombing downward and then abruptly ascending to form a “J” pattern of light. A few species waggle their abdomens from side to side and appear to be twinkling just like a distant star.
What you can do: If you have a wrist watch that can glow or a flashlight, try emulating the pattern of flashes. Different species of fireflies flash at different rates. Can you attract a firefly by imitating the sequence?
And Try this: Make a “night light” for your bedroom. Catch fireflies in a plastic ice cream tub and then transfer them to a glass jar once you get home. Add a few leaves and a drop or two of water. Lie in bed and watch them glow. Let them go in the morning. Savour a touch of nature’s very own night light – a glow that can inspire magic on those hot June and July evenings.
Want to learn more? These activities come from the Big Book of Nature Activities written by Camp Kawartha’s Executive Jacob Rodenburg and Naturalist Drew Monkman. It is available at Happenstance Books and Yarns at 44 Queen Street in Lakefield (705-652-7535), at Camp Kawartha (1010 Birchview Road, Douro-Dummer), at Chapters (Lansdowne Street west in Peterborough) and online at chapters.indigo.ca and Amazon.ca