Fireflies' lights might just brighten your future

In The Garden with Mr. Bee

July 21, 2011|By Lou Boulmetis ,

I've never liked being in the middle of large crowds. I don't care for loud noises, either, especially explosions.

So I don't celebrate Fourth of July by attending fireworks displays.

Around every Fourth of July, though, I do manage to find a field where nature is putting on a quiet light show with fireflies. Last summer a pair of fireflies apparently followed me home and camped out among our house plants. I took it as a promising sign.

Legend has it that if fireflies get loose in a home, good fortune will shortly follow. You can't cheat, though. Chasing down a couple of fireflies and turning them loose in your house won't work.

It sure was fun chasing fireflies when I was a child, though. In fact, it's still fun. Only now, instead of playing with them, I try to determine their species.

The most common firefly in our area is the Photuris pennsylvanicus (Pennsylvania firefly). One half inch long, it has brown wings. Behind its yellow head there's a red ring surrounding a black spot.

Pennsylvania fireflies prefer open places such as meadows and fields. They're easy to spot at night, since males fly close to the ground while blinking their lights twice to attract mates. The wingless females respond by flashing from the ground.

Firefly "glowworms" (larvae) hatch in the spring, after they spend winter below ground or beneath plant litter.

Glowworms really do glow, by the way, and when they feed, these beneficial insects prey mostly upon slugs, aphids and mites, as well as other types of soft-bodied insects considered to be garden pests.

It wasn't known until recently what adult fireflies eat. Now we know they get energy from sipping nectar.

Llast year turned out fairly well. Was it because I found a pair of fireflies hovering indoors around our house plants? The superstitious side of me thinks so. My logical side hopes so.

This week in the garden

The color yellow is very attractive to many kinds of insects that fly by day, and I must have looked like a giant sunflower — in my bright yellow shirt — to thebees, gnats and flies that kept buzzing me.

Maybe fireflies are attracted to yellow, too. To test my hypothesis, I'll wear my bright yellow shirt during dark nights when fireflies are flashing.

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