The Language of Fireflies

The Language of Fireflies

Fireflies are one of  the delights of summer, lighting up the evenings.

Even though clouds hid the full moon (here, anyway) on Sunday, and for the past few nights, there were fireflies after the rain, flashing on and off  in the garden, the sound of traffic like a river in the distance.

Indeed there is something almost magical about them, more romantic than moonlight, even--fireflies at twilight. One can imagine reading a letter, or writing by their intermittent light, a scene from years ago.

The fireflies are sending a message, too--a flirty exchange between male and female fireflies. They are signalling their presence and desire to potential mates by those lights flashing on and off.

According to National Geographic, there are over 2000 species of fireflies, each with its own distinct pattern of flashing lights.

By day, the firefly is an unassuming beetle  (Order Coleoptera, family  Lampyridae), sheltering in tall grasses and marshy areas.

But around dusk, they rise, transforming into fantastic creatures of light.

 How do they do this?  Fireflies make their own illumination.  The scientific name for this is "bioluminescence,"  and even that sounds poetic to me. But here's the chemistry--they use oxygen and combine it with a molecule called luciferin to produce light with almost no heat.

If you want to know more about how bioluminescence in fireflies works, this article will explain the chemical processes involved.

Fireflies are one of the few non-marine creatures that have this luminous ability. Squids in the depths of the oceans are also bioluminescent, the almost-hypnotic patterns of lights and colors are their way of communicating. This article  explains how marine bioluminescence works.

Yes, we have our own lights, too, don't we, walking in the twilight, checking the glow of screens--what message awaits, what will you send?

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Filed under: seasons, weather

Tags: fireflies


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  • A charming post. Luminescent like the fireflies themselves.

    Over 2000 kinds, each with its distinct light patterns. Fascinating.

  • Thank you! You are so kind and encouraging.

    Fireflies are fascinating, indeed--so glad you enjoyed them. Maybe I will write more about them...

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  • In reply to Lizhogg:

    The light stuff...

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