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Would you like to wish on a star

Published July 16. 2016 09:03AM

A speaker on the radio commented that every generation claims when they look back at their youth that gas prices were reasonable, times were simpler and children were well-behaved and listened to their elders.

Recently, I asked a youngster who visited the center, “Have you ever caught lightning bugs and put them in a jar and watched them for a little while before letting them go?”

This child looked at me as if I had lost my mind and replied in a very disgusted tone, “No.”

I was not only saddened by the fact this child never experienced this, but he did not even ask me why someone would want to catch them in the first place. This made me think back to those warm summer nights when we ran barefoot through the yard chasing lightning bugs, capturing them in that old rinsed-out Mason jar. I remember when my friend captured one and injured it while putting the lid on the jar. There was something magical about these creatures and it saddened us that we had caused harm to it. I remember my friend saying it was like “wishing on a star” and letting it go.

The other night, I was driving home from a meeting on a dark and winding country road and there were fireflies everywhere! I was so excited. I slowed down, turned on the hazard lights and pulled over. I hoped I wasn’t throwing them off by having my hazard lights on. I sat for several minutes and watched the fireflies with this big, goofy grin on my face as nature gifted me with this unexpected pleasure.

Fireflies are disappearing all over the world, and two major factors are development and light pollution. As their habitat disappears, firefly numbers dwindle. There is a strong indication that light pollution is a major factor in the disappearance of fireflies all over the world. This type of pollution is believed to interrupt firefly flash patterns.

Scientists have observed that synchronous fireflies get out of sync for a few minutes after a car’s headlights pass. Light from homes, cars, stores and streetlights may all make it difficult for fireflies to signal each other during mating — meaning fewer firefly larvae are born next season. Both male and female fireflies use their flashing lights to signal to one another. Some species synchronize their flashes; speaking a language of light. This light is used it to attract mates, defend territories and warn off predators.

Fireflies emit light mostly to attract mates, and in some firefly species, only one sex lights up. In species where both light up, the male will fly around while females wait in trees, shrubs and grasses to spot an attractive male. If she finds one, she’ll signal it with a flash of her own.

Firefly lights are the most efficient lights in the world — 100 percent of the energy is emitted as light. Compare that to an incandescent bulb, which emits 10 percent of its energy as light and the rest as heat, or a fluorescent bulb, which emits 85 percent of its energy as light. Because the lightning bugs’ light produces no heat, scientists refer to firefly lights as “cold lights.”

Adult fireflies aren’t the only ones that glow. In some species, the larvae and even the eggs emit light. Firefly eggs have been observed to flash in response to stimulus such as gentle tapping or vibrations.

Fireflies are primarily carnivorous. Larvae usually eat snails and worms, and occasionally they will cannibalize other firefly larvae. Adults live only long enough to mate and lay eggs. It’s not clear if they feed on plant pollen and nectar. The larvae usually live for one year, from mating season to mating season, before becoming adults and continuing the cycle all over again.

Fireflies love warm, humid areas, thriving in forests near lakes, rivers, ponds and streams. They need a moist environment to survive. Some species of firefly larvae are generally aquatic — they even have gills — while others live almost entirely in trees. As they grow, they more or less stay where they were born. If you have never chased a lightning bug, it is never too late to try. Head outside with a youngster and catch these fascinating little bugs for a few minutes.

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