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Rick Brockway

June 27, 2014

Fireflies never cease to amaze as nature's night-lights

The other night, we were sitting around a campfire up on the hill with a group of friends. Out across the meadow, the flashing of fireflies or lightning bugs could be seen. They were everywhere. It seemed like there were millions of them. It looked like a mini-version of the Fourth of July fireworks.

Boy, that brought back memories of my youth. I would get an old mayonnaise jar and collect them. They would light up my room like a nature’s night-light until dawn.

Lightning bugs are actually a winged beetle. They chemically produce a cold light, having no ultraviolet or infrared frequencies. It is produced in the insect’s lower abdomen. In different parts of the world, the color varies from yellow to green to even a pale red.

The light is used in mate selection and is emitted in a variety of ways to communicate during courtship. It varies from steady glows to irregular flashes.

In the Malaysian jungles, the fireflies synchronize their flashing so every beetle lights up at the exact same time. Oddly, this coordinated flashing always happens during the first week of June each year in Elkmont, Tenn., deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains. This strange phenomenon also happens in the Congaree National Park in South Carolina.

Kids today don’t have time to collect fireflies. They are too busy on computers and video games to play outside and have fun.

I was talking to a friend the other day. When he was a kid, he saw an ad in the local newspaper that read, “Will pay $50 dollars for one million fireflies.”

Back then, that was a lot of money, so he figured this was the perfect get-rich-quick scheme. Every night for a solid week, he collected lightning bugs. Finally, he gave up on the idea. After chasing them around the fields and backyard until all hours of the night, he had a grand total of 300 little flashing creatures. He soon realized that he was still a long ways from a million, so the $50 was an impossible dream.

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Rick Brockway

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