Fireflies: The Twinkle in Nature's Eye

Fireflies bring magic to warm summer evenings.

  • Science of Fireflies
    A firefly-studded meadow in New Jersey.
    Photo courtesy E.R. Degginger/Color Pic Inc.
  • Bioluminescence
    The Pyralis firefly, common east of the Rocky Mountains.
    Photo courtesy Kevin Adams
  • Catching Fireflies
    Fireflies blend with the stars above Plymouth, Mass.
    Photo courtesy Matt Bendaniel/Bruce Coleman Inc.
  • Lightning Bugs
    The Pennsylvania firefly, common from the Atlantic coast to Texas and north to Manitoba.
    Photo courtesy Dwight Kuhn
  • Fireflies
    There are some 2,000 species of fireflies, many of them native to the tropics in South America and the Pacific Ocean. They’re all members of the family Lampyridae, which loosely translated means “shining fire.”
    Photo courtesy Fotolia/fergregory

  • Science of Fireflies
  • Bioluminescence
  • Catching Fireflies
  • Lightning Bugs
  • Fireflies

It was back in the days when my old friend Hugh was a new friend. We’d just finished dinner at his cabin in North Carolina’s Saluda Mountains. “Let’s go for a walk,” he said, “I have something to show you.” Noting a suspicious glint in his eyes, I asked him what was up. “You’ll see,” he said. “Here, take a flashlight. It’ll be dark by the time we get back.”

So we filed outside, Hugh in the lead and my wife, Laurel, and I following and exchanging “now-what?” glances. He led us onto an old logging road that plunged deep into the early-summer woods. The darkening forest was hushed, save for occasional twilight birdsong. All around were tangles of rhododendron and wizened old oaks towering above bracken fern. It was the sort of woodland where, at any turn, you would half expect to see an impish elf. But the magic we were about to witness far surpassed any mere fantasy.

“Here,” Hugh declared, stopping as we came into a small clearing.

“Where?” I asked, looking round.

“Just wait,” Hugh said, mysterious as ever. “Just wait.”

And so there we stood, waiting, as dusk gradually turned to night.

6/12/2009 1:01:50 AM

i just read something about similar fireflies in tennessee... "The synchronous fireflies don’t actually flash in unison. Rather, one or two males will flash, and this causes other males nearby to start flashing at random, and for a set period of time. The effect is stop-start sequence, with each burst of blinking light lasting about eight seconds. Synchronous fireflies - Photinus carolinus - occur in watersheds throughout the Smokies, not just at Elkmont. They like open areas in the forest, preferably near a water source.…In addition to the synchronous fireflies, visitors will likely also see some blue ghosts - fireflies that don’t blink, but fly around with their blueish light stuck in the “on” position."



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