DID YOU SEE THAT?


Firefly

Elephant beetle
Fire Fly beetle
Larva
Larva
Scientific classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Coleoptera
Family: Lampyridae
Superfamily: Elateroidea
Genera incertae sedis: Oculogryphus Pterotus

Have you ever had the opportunity to sit in an area where these creatures seem to dance across an open field or in the trees at night? If not you have really missed something spectacular.

Lampyridae is a family of insects in the beetle order Coleoptera. They are winged beetles, and commonly called fireflies or lightning bugs for their conspicuous crepuscular use of bioluminescence to attract mates or prey. Fireflies produce a "cold light", with no infrared or ultraviolet frequencies. This chemically-produced light from the lower abdomen may be yellow, green, or pale-red, with wavelengths from 510 to 670 nanometers.

About 2,000 species of firefly are found in temperate and tropical environments. Many are in marshes or in wet, wooded areas where their larvae have abundant sources of food. These larvae emit light and are often called "glowworms", in particular, in Eurasia. In the Americas, "glow worm" also refers to the related Phengodidae. In many species, both male and female fireflies have the ability to fly, but in some species, females are flightless.

Fireflies, also known as glow worms, tend to be brown and soft-bodied, often with the elytra more leathery than in other beetles. Though the females of some species are similar in appearance to males, larviform females are found in many other firefly species. These females can often be distinguished from the larvae only because they have compound eyes. The most commonly known fireflies are nocturnal, though there are numerous species that are diurnal. Most diurnal species are nonluminescent, though some species that remain in shadowy areas can produce light.

A few days after mating, a female lays her fertilized eggs on or just below the surface of the ground. The eggs hatch three to four weeks later, and the larvae feed until the end of the summer. The larvae are commonly called glowworms, not to be confused with the distinct beetle family Phengodidae or fly genus Arachnocampa. Lampyrid larvae have simple eyes. The term glowworm is also used for both adults and larvae of species such as Lampyris noctiluca, the common European glowworm, in which only the nonflying adult females glow brightly and the flying males glow only weakly and intermittently.

Fireflies hibernate over winter during the larval stage, some species for several years. Some do this by burrowing underground, while others find places on or under the bark of trees. They emerge in the spring. After several weeks of feeding, they pupate for 1.0 to 2.5 weeks and emerge as adults. The larvae of most species are specialized predators and feed on other larvae, terrestrial snails, and slugs. One such species is Alecton discoidalis, which is found in Cuba. Some are so specialized, they have grooved mandibles that deliver digestive fluids directly to their prey. Adult diet varies. Some are predatory, while others feed on plant pollen or nectar.

Most fireflies are quite distasteful and sometimes poisonous to vertebrate predators. This is due at least in part to a group of steroid pyrones known as lucibufagins (LBGs), which are similar to cardiotonic bufadienolides found in some poisonous toads.

Pyrophorus sp., Bioluminescent Click Beetle

The click beetle to the left does not flicker like other fireflies, it has constant spots that light up like headlights. Light production in fireflies is due to a type of chemical reaction called bioluminescence. This process occurs in specialised light-emitting organs, usually on a firefly's lower abdomen. The enzyme luciferase acts on the luciferin, in the presence of magnesium ions, ATP, and oxygen to produce light. Genes coding for these substances have been inserted into many different organisms (see Luciferase Applications). Firefly luciferase is used in forensics, and the enzyme has medical uses in particular, for detecting the presence of ATP or magnesium. It has been speculated that Baroque painter Caravaggio may have prepared his canvases with a powder of dried fireflies to create a photosensitive surface on which he projected the image to be painted.

All fireflies glow as larvae. Bioluminescence serves a different function in lampyrid larvae than it does in adults. It appears to be a warning signal to predators, since many firefly larvae contain chemicals that are distasteful or toxic.

Light in adult beetles was originally thought to used for similar warning purposes, but its primary purpose is now thought to be used in mate selection. Fireflies are a classic example of an organism that uses bioluminescence for sexual selection. They have evolved a variety of ways to communicate with mates in courtships: steady glows, flashing, and the use of chemical signals unrelated to photic systems.

Some species, especially lightning bugs of the genera Photinus, Photuris, and Pyractomena, are distinguished by the unique courtship flash patterns emitted by flying males in search of females. In general, females of the Photinus genus do not fly, but do give a flash response to males of their own species. With a flashlight you can point it and flash it on and off at one and it will respond with it flashing back.

Tropical fireflies, in particular, in Southeast Asia, routinely synchronise their flashes among large groups. This phenomenon is explained as phase synchronization and spontaneous order. At night along river banks in the Malaysian jungles (the most notable ones found near Kuala Selangor), fireflies (kelip-kelip in the Malay language or Bahasa Malaysia) synchronise their light emissions precisely. Current hypotheses about the causes of this behavior involve diet, social interaction, and altitude. In the Philippines, thousands of fireflies can be seen all year-round in the town of Donsol (called aninipot or totonbalagon in Bicol). In the United States, one of the most famous sightings of fireflies blinking in unison occurs annually near Elkmont, Tennessee in the Great Smoky Mountains during the first weeks of June. Congaree National Park in South Carolina is another host to this phenomenon.

Female Photuris fireflies are known for mimicking the mating flashes of other "lightning bugs" for the sole purpose of predation. Target males are attracted to what appears to be a suitable mate, and are then eaten. For this reason the Photuris species are sometimes referred to as "femme fatale fireflies." Outside their nest the termites are defenseless. They are easy and ready prey for any creature who finds them appetizing. The mass swarming of the termites, however, acts to overwhelm these predators, who can eat only so many of the little delicacies leaving the survivors with the opportunity to complete their one and only mission in life, which is to reproduce.