Let’s face it. Every single lightningbug out there is desperately trying to pass on its genes to the next firefly generation. But some female glow-worms are really dedicated mothers, so I think they deserve a special shout-out today.
Like other glow-worms, females of the Blue Ghost firefly are born wingless, so they can only dream of flying. Instead, they’re destined to spend their nights crawling around the leaf litter, shining from tiny glow spots, hoping to attract a mate. However, because they’re freed from the hefty demands of flight, glow-worm females can channel all their resources into making lots of eggs – like the female pictured above!
After she has mated, the Blue Ghost female lays a batch of about 30 eggs down in the leaf litter. Then she curls her body, guarding her eggs and glowing protectively above them until she dies.
This egg-guarding behavior is highly unusual for fireflies. Although she won’t live to see her offspring hatch (that will take about a month), she can die happy knowing she’s given her offspring the best possible start in life!
So Happy Mother’s Day to all the Blue Ghost mamas!
Learn more about female glow-worms in Silent Sparks Chapter 5: Dreams of Flying.
You can read our article about courtship and mating behavior in Blue Ghost fireflies here.
Glow-worms & fireflies are uniquely susceptible to light pollution because our bright nights interfere with their ability to find mates. Fiona Benson’s poem beautifully captures the urgency of female glow-worm – “come find me – it is time – and almost dawn’ – and the male’s dilemma:
“all night he looks for her in petrol stations villages and homesteads, the city’s neon signs: where are you – it is time – and almost dawn.”
Love Poem, Lampyridae (Glowworms) by Fiona Benson
The female born again with little changed except she has no mouth and may not eat, except she has this urge to climb, and a light she must raise and twist; the male born again with little changed except he has no mouth, except he has this urge to search, and wings – oh she must twist and turn her tail’s green fire like bait, its little stab of brightness in the night, and he must search with wings through troubled air to find her pinhole lure, its single, green, seducing star …. All night she signals him in: come find me – it is time – and almost dawn; all night he looks for her in petrol stations villages and homesteads, the city’s neon signs: where are you – it is time – and almost dawn….
Once were humans wandered in the lanes, led astray by fairies, foxfire, who found their stranger selves and brought them home
Now the dark is drowned, but some things you can only find beyond the light, and it is time and almost dawn and love, my love, there is no finding then.
Published in The Guardian, part of Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry collection celebrating the beauty of a vanishing insect world.
During the last century, many cigarette manufacturers tucked nifty collectible cards inside every cigarette pack. Sometimes these cigarette cards had wonderful artwork depicting fascinating scientific tidbits. This 1922 card of the common European glow-worm show both a male (right, inside circle) and a female (left, on grass). The two look surprisingly different in this and other glow-worm species! While the male looks like a pretty typical adult beetle, the grub-like female doesn’t: for one thing, she doesn’t have wings, so she’ll never be able to fly. Full of eggs, this plump female crawls up onto a perch and glows for hours trying to attract a flying, unlit male.
The glow-worm’s undeniable romantic charm was also captured in this hit song, which the Mills Brothers recorded in the 1950s – enjoy!