Thursday, June 7, 2012

Fireflies Looking for Love

            Fireflies Looking for Love

            A certain studied posture made famous by actor James Dean, a flick of a hand through one’s hair, extended eye contact, and a lingering second glance suggest that one human is attracted to another.  Researchers have written entire books about the indicators humans use when they want to hook up.

Not surprisingly, other species’ signals read just as obviously or more so.  Around here, we watch the spring strut where male turkeys fan their tails and rattle their feathers to attract  hens.  In a few remote spots, one might catch a prairie chicken booming to catch the eye and ear of his ladylove. A person sitting outside on a summer eve  will hear neighboring frogs trilling and croaking love songs to woo their ladies.

On  summer nights, love is everywhere, even in the fire flies flitting about my backyard.  Recently I discovered that these insects’ blinking lights flash in a search for romance.  These light then dark then light firefly lights that so intrigue me have everything to do with their intent to propagate and nothing to do with my delight in their on again, off again bulbs. A timely Internet article helped me understand how fireflies control their little strobes.
The article mentioned their ability to glow involves the chemical nitric oxide, which also helps control the human heart beat and memory. I enjoyed discovering fireflies and I have something in common than living in the same location.   I was also intrigued that of the two hundred species of fireflies, each has its own signal to differentiate it from another variety of firefly.  Using their unique series of flashes, they attract an appropriate mate.  When female fireflies see a blink that sets their nerve endings on sizzle, they flash in response.

While I have enjoyed fireflies all these years, I didn’t realize all that night time Morse code had to do with reproduction.  It was one of those experiences I simply enjoyed and did not think to investigate.  In addition to learning that fireflies use this little light to look for love, I also learned they spend two years in a larval state, and they only have two weeks in their beetle /firefly stage to find a mate and propagate according to a Tufts University study.

 Two weeks is not a lot of time to find a good reproductive partner.  Learning this makes me feel guilty for those childhood years I collected fireflies in jars to admire in my darkened bedroom and for those years I let our girls do the same.  Even though we released our insects the next morning, we really diminished their baby making opportunities. 

This information has created a new resolve at this house.  Those glowing little guys can have their whole two weeks to find love and perpetuate their species.  From here on, I will not interfere in their romantic liaisons. However, I do feel a like I am invading their privacy when I sit outside enjoying their light show.


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