The skies have been full of loud bangs and bright lights for the past few weeks – spillover from Independence Day celebrations and town festivals and fairs. My sister-in-law’s dog suffers greatly during this time of year, as she does during thunderstorms. I often wonder how the birds, rabbits, raccoons, deer and other animals react to all the noise and strange lights. Is it just some strange thunder and lightning or does it remind them of the hunter’s gun?
When I was little I enjoyed fireworks, because they only happened a couple of times a year and going to see them was a major event. Now it seems every other house, especially around the lakes, has its own fireworks display that go on all July and later. They aren’t so special anymore. And I never did like the ones that went bang but didn’t shower sparks. Officially they’re called loud reports. I have no use for them if they aren’t pretty. I much prefer nature’s fireworks – the firefly and the glowworm.
“Shine, little glowworm, glimmer, glimmer” were the lyrics to a song in my childhood. As I got older I assumed it was just a song lyric and relegated glowworms to the realm of pixies and fairies. But a few years ago during a ranger-led night hike at Pokagon we found glowworms! They are the larvae that later become fireflies, although the term also refers to other insects that glow.
Fireflies are winged beetles named for their “conspicuous crepuscular use of bioluminescence,” according to Wikipedia. That’s inflated language to just say they glow brightly at dusk. What an unfortunate child is he or she who has never caught lightning bugs and put them in a jar with a little grass and holes in the lid to enjoy their glow for an evening!
There are about 2,000 firefly species, states the National Geographic website. There have been times when I thought there must be at least that many individuals in my yard, but this year they are scarce. I see a few emerge from the dark corners of the yard, under trees and bushes, and they fly low at first, and then higher and higher, and then they’re gone. Their display doesn’t last very long each evening, and adult fireflies don’t live very long, just long enough to mate and lay eggs for the next generation. Around here we usually first see them toward the end of June and they’re mostly gone by August. The larvae emerge from the eggs and may live a year before emerging as adults. The larvae are carnivores and eat worms and snails. They winter underground or in the bark of trees. Some sources say that the adults eat pollen or nectar or don’t eat at all.
The glowing has two purposes. It attracts potential mates. Different species have differing patterns of flashing their lights. But scientists think that the glow is also a warning to potential predators. Apparently lightning bugs taste nasty and creatures that might eat them learn quickly that the flashy ones don’t taste good. That would explain why glowworms also glow, since in the larval stage they aren’t yet looking for mates. And in some species even the eggs glow.
Fireflies like warm, humid places. In drier locales they live by ponds and marshes. They certainly have humid conditions this year, but last year’s drought is probably one reason that I haven’t seen so many this year. I have heard it speculated that it may take us 10 years to recover fully in terms of flora and fauna from the drought. Have you noticed how few butterflies there are this year? It doesn’t seem fair that the mosquitoes recovered so quickly!
So enjoy the peace and quiet, now that the man-made fireworks have subsided, and let yourself be enchanted by Nature’s much quieter display of lights while it lasts.