Few Words About Our Favorite Subject
Fireflies, or as we call ‘em in Tennessee,
"lightning bugs," are flying beetles that reside
around grassy meadows. The insects have the unusual ability to
flash or twinkle, producing a cold light and creating a magical
sparkle that lights up the early evening at twilight.
Many people associate the insect with their
childhood memories and the simple, innocent pleasures of that
time. They may even remember chasing the tiny glowing bugs on
warm summer evenings and collecting them in a jar with air holes
punched in the top.
Fireflies are also luminescent in the larvae
stage, and during this period of life, they are sometimes called
Now most anyone who ever observes a firefly as it twinkles in
the darkness seems to wonder: "How do they make the
light?" Fireflies are not completely understood and the
light making process is complicated. Their luminous glow is
believed to come from their abdominal air tubes where a
chemical called luciferin is activated in a chemical reaction
with the substance luciferase. A cold light is created by this
The timing of the flash is believed to be due
to the gas, nitric oxide, which controls
delivery of oxygen to specialized light cells that use the
oxygen to fuel chemical luminescence. Each species of firefly
has its own rhythm. The flash is actually a "love
call" that helps fireflies find each other for mating.
Fireflies are found all over the world. There
are about 200 species of fireflies in the United States, but
almost none are found in the western United States. Fireflies,
unfortunately, have disappeared in many areas, even though they
thrive in others.
The mature firefly lives a short life of a few
months and may not even survive long enough to need food. Some
scientists think it is probable that the insects feed on nectar
to sustain their energy. Larvae have been observed feeding on
earthworms, snails and slugs. Some types of fireflies are
"femmes fatales" who flash to attract males of other
species only to devour them.
There are no known biological suppliers or other sources from
which fireflies can be purchased for repopulating an area. Most
experts suggest avoiding pesticides, which kill desirable
insects as well as the less desirable ones, and maintaining the
natural habitat as the best way to attract them naturally to
your property. Many types also seem to prefer being close a
natural source of water.
Here in Tennessee, fireflies are plentiful and can be seen
nearly every warm summer evening in June and July bringing their
bit of brightness into the night. The simple and magical
qualities of the insect have captured the imagination of both
children and adults. The tiny, wild insect symbolizes the
flight and fancy of a free spirit.