Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Lifestyles

June 29, 2014

The magic of summer

Fireflies light up the sky in the two Virginias

BLUEFIELD —  During the darkest hour of twilight, fireflies light up the sky in the two Virginias. It is a magical scene, both for children who delight in the glow and adults who fondly remember chasing fireflies many summers ago.

Daniel Frank, an entomology extension specialist, with the West Virginia University Extension Service, said fireflies appear during the warm and humid months of June and July in the two Virginias. But the small glowing insect is not a bug or a fly.

It is really a beetle. Lightning bugs can be found throughout the world in temperate and modern climates. There are more than 100 different species of fireflies in North America, each with their own flashing pattern. Frank said the main goal of adult fireflies is to mate and lay eggs.

“Most fireflies are nocturnal and produce flashes of light when searching for or responding to a potential mate. Beginning around dusk, or shortly thereafter, male fireflies will fly over an area and make a characteristic series of flashes to advertise their presence and availability. The female, which is often perched on the ground or on a plant, will respond to a male with her own distinctive flash,” states Frank in an article for the WVU Extension Office.

So how do the beetles produce light? Lightning bugs give out light through a chemical reaction called bioluminescence. Special light producing organs in the abdomen, along with the chemical luciferin and the enzyme luciferase and oxygen create the flash.

“The light produced as a by-product of this chemical reaction is highly efficient and often referred to as a cold light because it does not produce heat,” Frank stated.

Fireflies thrive in forests and fields, around streams, ponds, marshes, rivers and lakes. Baby fireflies, also known as larvae, live in the soil for about a year, before emerging as adults.

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Most people in the two Virginias associate fireflies with childhood memories as well as introducing their own children to the magic of summer’s favorite insect.

“I remember staying out with my cousins and catching them and putting them in a mason jar with holes in the top and putting them in our room,” Sandra Griffith Wynn, of Princeton, said. “I now enjoy watching my little boy James running after them and catching them. A memory that so many kids don’t get to experience.”

Heather Harris, of Bluefield, Va., said she always let her fireflies go when she was a child that way “we could catch them again.”

Either way, catching lightning bugs and either releasing them or putting them in a jar, doesn’t hurt the insect’s population, according to Frank. Adult lightning bugs don’t live that long anyways. Frank encourages children to catch and chase the glowing beetles.

“My personal opinion is that it is good to have kids interested and not be afraid of insects. It is good to get them outside and there are a lot of fireflies out there. They really aren’t going to do any long term damage,” Frank said.

Those who are concerned about fireflies can instruct children to release the insects as soon as they catch them during the summer evenings. The website, www.firefly.org, gives instructions on how to catch fireflies safely.

“Place the fireflies you catch into a clear jar with a lid that’s been pierced to let in air. You should also place a moistened towel inside to keep the air in the jar humid. This way, your fireflies will have air to breathe and don’t dry out,” the website states.

Once you have a jar, only keep the fireflies inside for a day or two. Then, let them go at night so they can avoid predators.

What about dwindling population?

You might not see as many fireflies as you did when you were a child. Frank said habitation loss is a big issue for a lot of insects.

“The larvae like to spend their time in the soil,” he said. “If you don’t have a marsh or an wooded area, you won’t have fireflies.”

Firefly.org believes new developments and light pollution may be contributing to the loss of many insects like fireflies in the U.S. and around the world.

 

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