A hip-jutting, bold-shouldered posture made famous by actor James Dean, a flick of a hand through hair, extended eye contact, and a lingering second glance suggest a human’s interest in romance. Researchers have written entire books about body language people use when they want to hook up.
Not surprisingly, other species’ signals read just as obviously. In this region, we watch the spring strut where male turkeys fan tails and rattle feathers to attract hens. In a few remote locales, you might spy a prairie chicken dancing and booming to catch the eye and ear of his ladylove. Sitting outside on a summer eve, you hear nearby frogs trilling and croaking love songs to woo female amphibians.
On warm June and July nights, love is everywhere, even in the fireflies flitting about my backyard. Recently, I discovered these insects’ blinkers flash in search of romance. These light--then dark--then light beacons that enthrall me have everything to do with reproduction and nothing to do with my delight in their strobe effect. A little research helped me understand how fireflies control their lights.
A scientist mentioned this insect’s ability to glow involves the chemical nitric oxide, which coincidentally helps control human heartbeats and memories. It’s interesting that a chemical that brightens a summer night also has something to do with maintaining brain cells that replay movies of times past. Humans may not glow and flash as fireflies do, but the elemental bond they share with this charming insect plays a critical role in their well-being.
It also intrigued me to learn that the two hundred species of fireflies each have unique signals that differentiate them from another variety of firefly. Using their specifically designed beacons, they attract appropriate mates. This is critical, considering the short time they have to find a partner.
While I’ve enjoyed fireflies for years, I didn’t realize their nightly Morse code involved propagation of their species. Those tiny flickers are nature’s way to make sure my favorite summertime insect continues to exist. In addition to discovering fireflies use their flashers to look for love, I also learned they spend two years in a larval state. In contrast to this long incubation, they exist for only two weeks in their beetle/firefly stage. It’s during this short period that they mate and lay eggs, according to a Tufts University study.
Two weeks is not much time to start a family. Finding this out makes me feel guilty for the years I collected fireflies in glass jars to admire in a dark bedroom and for the summers I allowed our daughters to enjoy this childhood ritual. Though we released our insects the following morning, we reduced their baby making opportunities.
This information has created a new resolve at this house. Those glowing bugs can have their whole beetle stage to find love and make more nighttime wonders. From now on, I won’t interfere in their romances. However, knowing these facts makes me feel like I invade their privacy when I watch their summer light shows.