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fireflies

"Firefly" has a much more appealing ring,
than the beetles these insects actually are!

There are more than 125 species of fireflies in the United States. They typically emerge in mid-summer, tiny twinkling yellow lights flitting thru fields, woods and suburban lawns. These magical lights of our childhood, are in reality a complex system scientists still don't completely understand.

Their controlled flash is a sort of insectile Morse Code - a particular signal from the flying male beckoning to the female that usually remains stationary near the ground or in a tree. When she sees a male's light she flashes a response. Flashing back and forth, male and female ensure that they are both of the same species before their mating ritual proceeds. The eggs the female lays - just under the soil surface - also are bioluminescent (a fancy word for the emission of light from a living thing)!

Tiny larvae hatch in two to three weeks equipped with what appear to be two tiny lanterns on the underside of the tail. After living in the leaf litter for two years, eating small snails and worms, they curl into a igloo-like dirt shelter and after about two and a half weeks metamorphose into adults.

Adult fireflies usually don't eat, and during their short life - only about three weeks - they create a dreamlike light display at night - one we tend to forget until joyfully revisited one evening!

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This page last updated 07 April 1998
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