By Terri Estes

We call them lightning bugs around here, but they are better known as fireflies and are famous for entertaining us with their flashy nighttime displays. They are not actually flies as the name would imply, but beetles that are able to light up a portion of their bodies in order to communicate with other fireflies and to find a mate. There are thousands of species of fireflies, and they are found on every continent except Antarctica. Over 30 different varieties can be found in the New York area alone.

Fireflies are very beneficial to our environment. Firefly larva are voracious eaters and feed on snails, slugs and many other garden pests. They help to maintain balance in our delicate ecosystem. But now, scientists are worried about our little lightning bug friends. Habitat destruction, pesticide use, and light pollution are causing a large decline in their numbers. Most fireflies use specific flash codes to find mates. The insects gauge when to flash based on how dark it is. Many places are much brighter at night than they used to be, and a lot of neighborhoods stay lit all night long. Without correct lighting cues, fireflies don’t understand when it is time to start flashing.

Predators such as birds, and bats can easily spot our illuminated little friends, but usually avoid them. That is because fireflies contain a distasteful toxic compound in their blood. They do have some enemies, however. Frogs and some spiders are known to prey on fireflies. And, of course, there are humans. We don’t eat them (as far as I know), but we do love to catch them and put them in jars to watch the light show up close. I guess we forget to release them sometimes.

Hopefully these little guys will continue to entertain us on warm summer nights for a long, long time. I have been enjoying them in my yard in abundance this year!


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