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Why Fireflies Flash At Night—The Lusty (And Flavorable) Lives Of Fireflies
Posted on Thursday, June 02, 2011 by eNature
Pennsylvania Firefly Flashing
Pennsylvania Firefly Flashing
© E. R. Degginger/Color-Pic, Inc.

Now that summer is here (at least unoffically) many of us have begun seeing fireflies in our yards and gardens. 

They’ve definitely arrived in the mid-Atlantic region as several folks on the eNature team have reported encountering them.

Despite their small size and preference for dark places, fireflies deservedly receive a lot of attention when summer arrives. And there’s a lot more going on than many of us realize…

Their remarkable green and yellow flashing lights have a hypnotic effect on people. Children in particular are drawn to fireflies. But the same throbbing glow that attracts youngsters often leads male fireflies to their deaths.

In warm-weather months, especially where open meadows and forests coexist, the adult male fireflies of most species set out on mating flights in the evening hours. The females, meanwhile, await their mates in the foliage, blinking seductively. The task for each male is to find an unmated female of its own species.

It’s critical that the female be unmated because in many firefly species the females change through internal chemistry into man-eaters once they successfully mate. Thereafter they use their blinks to attract meals. Some females even imitate the idiosyncratic blinking patterns of other species in an effort to attract as many unsuspecting males as possible.

It’s a fly-eat-fly world out there!

Click here to read more about one of our most common species of firefly »

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Comments

Mama’s cookin’ now!

Posted by June-tune on 6/2

More or less like all females.  Lure the male in, get what you need, and kill him.

Posted by Bill on 6/2

Yeah. What Bill said.

Posted by Pete on 6/2

That’s what she said.

Posted by weezilgirl on 6/2

Bill summed that up pretty well.That some mimic other species is devious,but they need to eat.

Posted by NorthsideRasta on 6/2

The males go for the flashiest thing out there, then complain when they get burned - IF they survive to complain! They also don’t learn by observing others!!

Posted by Mary Ellen on 6/2

At least there are no attorneys involved. That would make being eaten alive almost worth it.

Posted by BCheck on 6/3

Yes, Bill said it all.  Females use the males to get what they want, then when they are done and got what they wanted, they destroy them.  So very, very true.

Posted by Larry P. on 6/3

I think you mean “grisly” end, not “grizzly” - which implies being eaten by a bear.

Posted by John Ginnetti on 6/3

John—

You’re correct on “grizzly”. Guess we’ve got bears on the mind these days….

Thanks for pointing that one out!

eNature Staff

Posted by eNature Admin on 6/3

Don’t go to the light….stay away from the light, lol….

Posted by Bobby on 6/3

A lot of species do that. Perhaps it’s adaptive and what human females have been able to accomplish and do to the males represents an evolutionary advancement. We just haven’t been around long enough to fully evolve as have the fireflys and spiders. In another 100,000 years or so, we males may be in a heap of trouble.

Posted by bob on 6/3

It is good to be a girl

Posted by T-Ma on 6/4

Things are not quite that simple, plus the communication systems seem to me to be the most interesting—every species has a different ‘Morse code’ and usually a different flight pattern.  If you know the answering timing, you can sometimes lure a male to land on your hand with a hooded flashlight.  There are only a few Photuris fireflies that are predators; others in that genus, plus many other species in other genera don’t cannibalize. A little research might be inorder.  E.g. Jim Lloyd’s papers from 1960s and later—check Google Scholar.  I particularly like the plate in Lloyd 1969 “Flashes of Photuris ...” in Florida Entomologist.

Posted by Bob on 6/4

After mating, is there anything else the male is good for?

Posted by Jane on 6/5

Teacher says,  “Every time a firefly flashes a male loses his wings”  wink

Posted by Kelly on 6/8

how about a little recognition for the SYNCHRONOUS flashing observed in the Smoky Mt National Park every year. All light at the same time like a camera flash. Guided trips are provided by the park service

Posted by joe on 6/28

My dogs’ collars have a small green light that flashes.  At night I hang the collars on the handle of the sliding glass door above the dog door so I remember to put them back on when I open the dog door in the morning.  I have noticed that I often see several fireflies on the outside of the door.  Is that coincidence or could the collar flashes be “calling” the fireflies?

Posted by Pat on 6/29

Yeah, I must’ve lured and killed five or six guys this week….

Posted by Michelle on 7/6
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