I am sure most of us in our childhood have come across fireflies. I know of some who have been scared to touch them, possibly fearing heat or a jolt of current. While others, like me, collected them in match boxes and set them loose within the mosquito nets that were prevalent in our homes. As kids we enjoy these moments, not giving a passing thought as to how these insects emit this light. I am already in the fourth season of this magic, yet I did not know the answer to this – until now. I power up the laptop as I decide to find out for myself.
Just like us humans, fireflies believe in social interaction too and this is the reason for the light they emit. The light is a result of a chemical reaction in their body called ‘Bioluminescence’. No surprise that this is primarily done to attract mates. The female fireflies are either found on the ground among the grass or are on tree branches/ trunks. The males fly around emitting light and when the female recognizes a male from its own species, it emits light to respond to the male. Yes! There are over 2000 species of fireflies alone in this world. Shocked? It surprised me too. The flashing rate and wavelength provide a suitable way for different species of fireflies to send out different signals and distinguish themselves from other species. Reminds me of the song –“Come on baby, light my fire”
Fireflies also emit light to avoid predators. A self defense technique! Fireflies are filled with a nasty tasting chemical called ‘Lucibufagens’. Once the predator gets a taste of this, it quickly learns to associate the glow of the firefly with this bad taste. This way, they warn predators to stay away! Some species of fireflies which are unable to produce this chemical feed on other species that can make it and thus they acquire this chemical.