Thursday, June 30, 2011

Summer's Love Bugs

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Summer's Love Bugs

Just the mention of the word “bug” makes most people start scratching. However, there are insects that people, especially kids, love. For grown-ups, they bring back nostalgic memories of summers during their childhood. Who doesn’t remember the glass jar at the foot of the bed with those sparkling, enchanting lightning bugs flickering off and on?

Actually, lightning bugs aren’t bugs at all. They are part of the beetle family. While they appear all over the world, various cultures have attached myths to these magical creatures.

Aztecs thought they brought a spark of knowledge in a time of ignorance and darkness. Europeans believed that a person would die if a firefly flew in the window. Native Americans caught them and smeared them on their faces and chests as decoration.

Today, the firefly is the state insect of Pennsylvania and Tennessee. They are used for medical research in the areas of cancer, multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis and heart disease. Fireflies are truly beneficial and don’t bite, have no pincers, don’t attack, don’t carry disease, and are not poisonous. Their larvae feed on the larvae of snails and slugs.

If you are really ambitious, you can become part of a lightning bug network and help with research. The Museum of Science in Boston allows you to sign up and send them data about the lightning bugs you observe once a week in your back yard.

So the big question is why do lightning bugs flash anyway? As you might guess, they are trying to attract a mate. The females perch close to the ground while the males fly around flashing, and then a dialogue soon begins. Each species of lightning bug has a unique flash pattern.

Bioluminescence is the ability of a living organism to give off light which is referred to as “cold light” because no heat is present. The firefly is the most common land animal that has bioluminescence, but certain types of worms, fungi and mushrooms also display light.

Fireflies are most often found around low, wooded areas that retain moisture like ponds and marshes. Adults sometimes feed on pollen and nectar. The female lays her eggs in the ground, and they hatch in about 4 weeks.

If you want to try to attract the golden creatures, there are several things you can do. Try to reduce the amount of light on your property so there will be no interference with the signals they are giving each other. Instead, install lights that are low to the ground and point straight down. Don’t use bug zappers or chemical pesticides. You could enhance the moisture available by adding more birdbaths. Allow for some tall grass in the yard where the males can rest during the day.

Take your children and yourself back to a slower, more beautiful time and have a lightning bug night often. The summer is short and so are childhoods. If you want to learn even more about fireflies, go to and research with your children.

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