Notes 2: Lifestyles of the Stars

Deep in the Heart of the Smokies
Detailed descriptions of the life cycle, habits, and mating behavior of the Appalachian synchronous firefly Photinus carolinus are reported in Faust (2010). Information about when, where, and how to see the Elkmont firefly display can be found on the National Park Service’s website. Photinus carolinus is also found in the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania.

In the book Sync: How Order Emerges From Chaos In the Universe, Nature, and Daily Life, mathematician Steve Strogatz gives a highly entertaining and accessible description of the mathematical basis of synchronization, and how it plays out in the engineered and natural world (Strogatz 2004).

Jon Copeland’s quote is from:

Copeland, J. (1998). Synchrony in Elkmont: A story of discovery. Tennessee Conservationist, May-June 1998.

The biographical material in this chapter is based on interviews I conducted with Lynn Faust in 2009, 2011 and 2013.

Humble Beginnings
Ferris Jabr lucidly describes how insects’ complicated lifestyle might have evolved, and gives some historical perspective about our scientific understanding of metamorphosis.

Jabr, F. (2012, August 10). How did insect metamorphosis evolve? Scientific American online.

Many details of the larval habits of Lampyris noctiluca are based on John Tyler’s informative pamphlet (Tyler 2002).

Their Glow Means No
Branham & Wenzel (2001) present phylogenetic evidence indicating that bioluminescence originated in the larval stage of some firefly progenitor, where it most likely functioned as a warning display.

Creative improvisation: Fireflies Evolving
I’ve quoted Darwin’s The Origin of Species (1859, p. 84) for what many consider his most poetic description of natural selection.

Synchronous Symphonies
Greenfield (2002) provides a cogent summary of various hypotheses for the evolution of synchrony in the courtship signals of various insects. Vencl and Carlson (1998) found that Photinus pyralis females preferentially respond to leading signals. Moiseff & Copeland (1995) looked at mechanisms of synchrony in Photinus carolinus fireflies, and Moiseff & Copeland (2010) showed that females responded more often to synchronous vs asynchronous male flashes.

Further Exploration

Darwin Online
Begun by Dr. John van Wyhe in 2002, this site provides digital, searchable versions of Charles Darwin’s books, field notes, journals, and more, along with downloadable audio and image files.

Darwin in Print

Eminent biologist and Pulitzer-Prize-winning author E.O. Wilson has annotated and gathered together four of Darwin’s works in a beautifully illustrated and affordable volume. It includes: Voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle (1845), The Origin of Species (1859), The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871), and The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). In his afterword, Wilson thoughtfully examines divisions between science and religious belief.

Wilson, E.O., ed. (2006). From So Simple a Beginning: Darwin’s Four Great Books. W.W. Norton, NY. 1706 pp.

Life & Times of European Glow-worms
The lifestyle of Lampyris noctiluca, is showcased in vivid detail in two books by talented naturalists. The second is among the last works written by the great French entomologist J. Henri Fabre; though its literary style is rather florid for modern tastes, it remains entertaining.

John Tyler (2002). The Glow-worm. Privately published.

Fabre, J. H. (1924) The Glow-worm and Other Beetles. Dodd, Mead and Company, NY.

The UK Glow Worm Survey

This informal group was set up Robin Scagell in 1990 to gather information about glow-worm sightings throughout the United Kingdom. The website describes the biology and conservation of these glow-worms, and provides links to many other resources and books.

Earth-Born Stars: Britain’s Secret Glow-worms

This evocative short film by Christopher Gent shows larvae feeding on snails, illustrates female courtship habits, and explores conservation threats to one of Britain’s most adored yet mysterious insects.