The flashing of fireflies comes in patterns that are recognizable to . . . other fireflies. We talk about a source of delight on a summer evening -- why fireflies light up -- after this on Earth and Sky.
Thursday, June 13, 1996DB: I'm Deborah Byrd.
JB: And I'm Joel Block for Earth and Sky, on the subject of fireflies, sometimes called lightning bugs. Many a child has spent a summer evening chasing them. And maybe you've wondered -- how and why are these insects able to light up?
DB: The answer is that fireflies contain an organic compound in their abdomens, called luciferin. As air rushes into the abdomen, it reacts with this compound. A chemical reaction gives off the familiar glow of a firefly. This light is sometimes called a "cold light" because it generates so little heat. The firefly can regulate the airflow into the abdomen to create a pulsating pattern.
JB: Some experts think the firefly's flashy style may warn predators of the insect's bitter taste. On the other hand, some frogs eat so many fireflies that they themselves begin to glow. Male fireflies also light up to signal their desire for mates -- and willing females attract the males with flashes of their own. But while each firefly species has its own pattern of flashing, some females imitate the patterns of other species. Males land next to them -- only to be eaten alive. So the next time you see a firefly, keep in mind that its flickering isn't just a wonder of the night -- it's also a unique, and sometimes deadly, language of love. Our show is made possible by the National Science Foundation. We're Block and Byrd for Earth and Sky.
Author(s): Jon Becker
Wednesday June 12, 1996 | Friday June 14, 1996
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