There are few things more magical than a warm summer’s evening filled with fireflies. It’s even better if the night is clear and there are stars above – then it’s a meeting of the heavens and earth.
I don’t know anyone who takes them for granted, even those who grew up with them and spent summer evenings imprisoning them in Mason jars (as I did not). In central Texas every summer we saw a few, but so few as to make me feel sorry for them in their lonely quest for love. There are several theories as to why fireflies haven’t taken to Texas; they like consistent moisture, which Texas isn’t really noted for, and they spend a significant part of their lives underground, where they are unfortunately vulnerable to fire ants. A shame; most of Texas could use more fireflies.
Where we live now is like Spring Break in Florida by comparison. Some nights it seems like only the females near the ground are doing most of the flashing (we call these “Ladies’ Nights”).
We have a greater diversity here as well – I’m told there are at least four different species, and to the west of us there is a rare enclave of synchronous fireflies (and tell me, how cool is that?!). Seeing the synchronous fireflies is so popular that the Park Service charges admission and takes reservations each year to park: http://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/nature/fireflies.htm
What makes the fire in the firefly’s belly? The active ingredient is an enzyme called luciferase. Luciferase is finding increasing use in biomedical research. It makes a handy marker for determining whether genetic transfers are taking place. But although the rationalist in me wants to analyze and categorize and understand the phenomenon, sometimes it’s better just to have a glass of wine and marvel. Why do fireflies flash? Because they can.