by: Betty Debnam
The firefly, or lightning bug is not really a fly!
It is a beetle.
Flies have only two wings.
Beetles usually have four wings.
The front wings have a strong covering, and pop up to form a shield when the beetle is flying.
2. Abdomen - lights up
Lightning bugs, also most often called fireflies, are very tiny insects that flash very tiny glowing signals on warm nights. Unfortunately, many (most all) kids west of the Rocky Mountains might never have seen them in real life. Fireflies much prefer warm, humid conditions, and conditions in the West aren’t quite right. Fireflies are usually found east of the Rockies. The peak firefly time is in June and July, but many species don’t come out until late August or even September.
Jar light, Jar bright.
Have you ever lucky enough to be in a state where they showed you how to catch fireflies in a Mason jar and watched them signal with their tiny light? Well, the Mini Page talked to an expert in Black River Falls, Wisconsin, about the best way to observe these tiny, fascinating, flashy insects.
1. Find a clear plastic container. (Or Grandmother’s Mason jar.)
2. Poke only one or two little air holes in the lid.(Remember I said, little.)
If there are too many holes, or too large holes, the fireflies could dry out. (Don’t worry-there will be enough oxygen in the jar to keep them alive.)
3. Put a damp paper towel or damp, small piece of cotton inside the jar. Fireflies need high humidity to live in.
4. Remember, the life of a firefly is very, very short, and you will want to set them free after an hour or two at most
Fireflies create light by causing a chemical reaction in special cells in their bodies. When fireflies breathe in oxygen, the oxygen fuels the light-making reaction. The more oxygen, the brighter the light he makes.
Messages of light
Fireflies may signal when they are in trouble. But usually fireflies flash their lights to attract a mate. The female waits in the grass or weeds, flashing her species’ signal . In many species, the female cannot even fly The males fly about until they happen to spot the female’s signals, then they hover around her, sparkling to get her attention
There are more than 1,900 kinds, or species, of fireflies throughout the world, on every continent except Antarctica. In North America there are about 170 species.
Each species has its own pattern of flashes. The number, length and color of the flashes are different for each and every species. Some twinkle and sparkle more. Some make long dashes; others make short little bursts. Others make zigzags of light. One species makes a J-shaped pattern. The colors are usually different shades of yellow or green. Some flash at different times of the night. Some may twinkle at sunset and stop in an hour Others come out only when it’s completely dark. In Asia some species flash in unison, so that they all light up at once.
Lighting up their lives
When living creatures make light, it is called bioluminescence (bi-o-loo-muh-NES-uhns.) This light from living creatures is very unusual because it is “cold” light. It gives off almost no heat at all. For example, a firefly turns almost 100 % of its energy into light. By comparison, an electric light bulb turns only 10 % of its energy into light. The rest is given off as heat. Most animals that give off light, such as squid or jellyfish, live in the ocean. Light-producing land creatures include some other beetles, some fungi and some bacteria.
Humans go with the glow
By studying fireflies, scientists have learned to reproduce fireflies’ special light- making chemicals. Doctors inject synthetic firefly chemicals into patients to study heart disease, cancer and other diseases. Because synthetic firefly chemicals light up when they are exposed to certain substances in living creatures, scientists use them to detect bacteria in orange juice, milk, and even water treatment plants.
NASA scientists plan to use artificial firefly chemicals to help them search for life on other planets, too. Scientists have already duplicated firefly chemicals to make the glowing sticks and necklaces many people enjoy during night festivities and special glowing lanterns that don’t give off heat.
1. The female may lay about 100 eggs in the ground. They hatch about a month later.
2 .The larva, a .wormlike form, hatches from the eggs. Larvae live in the grass or in tunnels underground. In some parts of the world they live in water. The firefly larva also gives off light, although it has a steady glow and so doesn’t flash. This firefly larva is often called a glowworm.
3. In the late spring, the larva builds a little room around itself out of mud. It then changes into a pupa. Inside this pupa everything breaks down and re-forms.
4. About 10 days later, the adult firefly comes out of its pupa. Adults live from three days to a few weeks only.
The larvae eat small animals such snails and slugs. They inject paralyzing chemicals and digestive juices into their prey. Then they suck out their prey’s dissolved insides. Adult fireflies eat other insects and probably eat nectar. Some types of females mimic the signals of other firefly species. When the male of another species flies to a female, she eats him. Fireflies may be eaten by other insects, spiders or animals. One species of frogs even starts glowing when it eats fireflies.
The Mini Page, distributed by Universal Press Syndicate, wishes to thank Nathan Erwin, manager, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Otto Orkin Insect Zoo, Washington, D.C., for his valuable help with this issue.
Site to see: www.ars.usda.gov/is/kids/insect/insectintro.htm
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