Published on February 20, 2013 by Amy
“Firefly” is the common name for the nocturnal (night-time) luminous (glowing) insects belonging to the beetle family Lampyridae (order Coleoptera). Some people call them “lightning bugs”. There are over 2000 species of fireflies living in the tropical and temperate regions. They range in size from 1/5 of an inch to one inch in length. Most fireflies found in the United States are about an inch or less in length.
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Female fireflies lay their eggs in the soil. The eggs hatch about four weeks later into larvae. The larvae are carnivorous. The larvae sometimes glow, and are commonly known as “glowworms”. Firefly eggs are also reported to glow. After hatching the larvae spend the summer eating tiny insects, larvae, and even slugs and snails. They then dig small tunnels in which they spend the winter. As the soil warms up in spring they come out to eat again, pupate and eventually emerge as fireflies. It is believed that some adult fireflies do not eat. Other kinds feed on pollen and nectar.
They have special light organs on the underside of the abdomen. Both male and female are luminous, meaning that they light up. The rhythmic flashing patterns that they make are different depending on sex and species. It is believed that the flashes are part of a signal system for attracting mates. Some scientists even believe the flashing is a warning system to predators that they taste bad. However, frogs eat fireflies in large amounts whenever they can.
During the summer, fireflies rest on plants or in trees during the day and fly around between dusk and midnight. They seem to like damp places. The firefly light is called a “cold light” because it produces no heat. It is produced when oxygen, breathed in through the abdominal trachea, or holes, combines with a substance called luciferin in the presence of the enzyme luciferase, in special cells called photocytes. It’s a lot like the glow-in-the-dark light sticks that kids use at Halloween. The light stick has two separate compartments with a different chemical in each one. When you crack the stick, the two chemicals mix, and the stick begins to glow! It’s the same with the firefly. As the molecules of the chemicals combine, they give a kick of energy and create a short burst of light. This chemical reaction is known as “chemiluminescence”
If you live in the United States, west of about the middle of Kansas, you are not apt to have the flashing type of fireflies in your area. Although some isolated sightings of luminous fireflies have been reported from time to time from regions of the western U.S., fireflies that glow are typically not found west of Kansas. The reason for this phenomenon is not known.
Many firefly species tend to be found around water such as ponds, streams, marshes or even depressions, ditches, etc., that may retain moisture longer then surrounding areas. However, fireflies are also found in very dry regions of the world as well.