If you wait long enough after dark, you will be treated to a magical sight. Tiny dots of greenish yellow light drift through the forest and then disappear, only to reappear moments later in a new location. Are they fairies? Wood nymphs? No, they’re fireflies!
Fireflies, also known as lightning bugs, are not actually flies or bugs, but beetles. They are protected by two hard outer shield wings and use their hind wings for flight. Fireflies begin their lives as larvae underground or burrowed into logs, where they eat snails, earthworms, and other invertebrates. The larvae may even hunt in packs! All larvae are born with light-producing cells, although some species are not luminescent as adults. These lights serve as a warning to predators that they are full of a distasteful steroid and would make a poor snack. Adults have poisonous blood that they excrete at the base of their wing covers to deter predators.
What makes a firefly glow? A chemical reaction known as bioluminescence takes place in the beetles’ abdomen. This light helps them attract a mate. Both males and females will glow in most species. Other bioluminescent insects glow continuously, but fireflies are special in that they can turn their light on and off. Most of the 150-200 species in North America have a unique flashing pattern. At Wolf Ridge, we are likely to see the Common Eastern Firefly, Photinus pyralis. These beautiful beetles put on a delightful summer show. See if you can find them!
-Marie and Sarah
Photo credit: www.wikiwand.com/ceb/Photinus