Midsummer, lightning bugs haven’t yet appeared?

Published 2:33 am Saturday, July 14, 2018

Here it is midsummer and I haven’t seen any lightning bugs yet. Lightning bugs were as much of my childhood as summer visits to the beach. Even as an adult, I am still always thrilled to see the first lightning bugs of the season.

I just took it for granted when I was a child that some time during the summer lightning bugs would appear, giving my friends and me a chance to stumble around in the dark to snatch some out of the air. I remember putting them in a Mason jar with holes in the cover so I could place it on my bedside table. They put on a spectacular show of flashing light. Sometimes I fell asleep watching the flashes of light illuminate the dark room. The next morning the performance ended. Then there were just a bunch of bugs crawling around in the jar, so I took it outside and released them.

Several of my friends pinched the flashers off the insect bodies to put them on their fingers for rings. Besides that being cruel to the defenseless insects, it made their hands smell awful. I avoided doing that since the odor it stirred up was so unpleasant.

It is not so surprising that there is no longer an abundance of lightning bugs flying around in our neighborhoods putting on those spectacular light shows. Pesticide usage on lawns and gardens has probably contributed to their demise. Lights discourage their presence because they interfere with the luminous signals they send out seeking mates. That is, of course, the purpose of the flashing.

During a camping stay at a state park, I learned that lightning bugs rest in grass and low spots during the day. One night I watched in delight and amazement as dozens of the glowing insects lifted themselves from some grass into the air.

When the chemical luciferin inside the insects’ abdomen/tail combines with oxygen, calcium, and adenosine triphosphate, a chemical reaction occurs that creates their spectacular light. The light produced by the lightning bug is the most efficient light ever made. Almost 100 percent of the energy in the chemical reaction is emitted as light. Most predators steer clear of the insects because of these chemicals. However, I read that frogs have been known to gorge on them, causing them to take on a glow.

There have been reports of light shows by specific species of lightning bugs in mountains of several states. Dozens of the insects flickered in harmony for five to eight times, paused for a few seconds, and repeated the spectacle. Scientists are not sure why they do it, but it may be the result of competitive males trying to be the first to flash. Or maybe it is because flashing the species pattern in unison will ensure that females of the same species notice the gang of males.

Summertime just is not the same for me without a show of those fascinating insects called lightning bugs or fireflies.



Nina Keenam is a former newspaper reporter.