Fireflies have amazed the human mind and imagination for centuries. When we encounter them, they seem to be small light bulbs that float in the air, blinking to inaudible music and captivating our eyes with mystique and wonder. They have taken their place in human myth from ancient Mayan culture to contemporary Japanese and synchronized blinking, which occurs in many different areas around the world, create a atmosphere of inquiry and amazement.
For those of us who are more objective in our reasoning, we might ask ourselves, what’s the mechanism behind the wall of wonder and how has it come to be? And contrary to what we might presume, these bugs are actually beetles, belonging to the order Coleoptera in scientific classification.
Fireflies are mostly nocturnal creatures with brown and soft bodies, even more leathery than conventional beetles. Their act of creating light in the abdomen area is referred to as bioluminescence, which describes, quite well, the process used to generate the hypnotically titillating visual spectacle.
The light is formed through a chemical reaction which occurs in the body. The active agent, Luciferase; a heat inducing enzyme, binds with its heat resistant substrate, Luciferin. This interaction between these two chemicals generates the energy required to give off light.
There are two chief reasons why fireflies glow at night: mating and impending danger. Since there are some 2,000 different kinds of fireflies around the planet, the light patterns emitted are specific to its particular type. After a match is found, mating can occur. After mating, the eggs are strategically placed in moist soil, where sowbug-like larvae will hatch in 3 weeks. These infant fireflies live for up to two years under ground, hunting and preying on earthworms, snails, slugs and fleas.
Fireflies are very efficient light producers. Their ability to generate light in a cost-effective way has sparked a number of research and development projects in the region of bioluminescence, regarding its potential human applications. To put things into perspective, the efficiency rate with which the fireflies use to produce light hovers around 90%, where as the average household light bulb comes with a rate of almost 10%.