The Lights of Summer

| 8/3/2017 9:11:00 AM

Country MoonThe magic appears right after the first of June and lasts for a couple of short months. They bring enchantment to summer nights and the show is free for all, you just have to be still and enjoy. I am talking about lightning bugs, aka fireflies, or whatever you choose to call these small creatures that make a big impact.

Fireworks are special in their own way but, given a choice between the two, I will choose a night spent watching fireflies any day. There is nothing more spectacular than watching them come alive at dusk and lighting up a bean field for as far as the eye can see. How many country kids grew up not catching lightning bugs at night and putting them in jars? There is just something magical here.

Actually, they are not flies at all, but rather beetles, and good beetles at that, compared to many of their cousins. They do not bite nor ravage plants. It is unknown exactly how they got the name "fireflies," except that the name ‘firebeetles” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

How fireflies “light up” is intriguing in itself. They are alchemists, creating light as if by magic, except it is not magic at all. Their tails contain two chemicals: luciferase, which is an enzyme that triggers light emission, and luciferin, which is heat resistant but glows under the right conditions. ATP is a chemical that is found in all living beings that converts to energy and, when combined with the first two, it initiates the glow. This glow is bright but not hot to the touch, which is why kids can catch these “night lights” without getting burned.

They are light geniuses because the light produced by a firefly is the most efficient light ever made. Almost 100 percent of the energy in the chemical reaction is emitted as light. In comparison, an incandescent light bulb only emits 10 percent of its energy as light with the other 90 percent being lost as heat.

They definitely have strange diets. The underground larva feast on slimy slugs, grubs, worms, and snails. As they mature, most eat pollen and nectar and some adult species even feast on each other. However, some never eat during their short life span. Can you imagine never eating during your life? But, I guess the world is always in balance because even though they are denied the pleasure of dining as adults, their sole purpose in life is to mate and lay eggs. Even though larva live one to two years, the adult life span is only three to four weeks, long enough to mate and lay eggs.

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