This latest firefly story from the folks over at KQED’s Deep Look has just about everything: sparkling romance, hidden poisons, and deadly deceit. As the famous firefly biologist Jim Lloyd once said about these North American Photuris femmes fatales, “If these were the size of house cats, people would be afraid to go outside at night.”
Every June, fireflies light up the Smoky Mountains with their exuberant courtship displays – sure, it all seems very romantic. But a few years ago I spent some weeks with colleagues studying the predators that take advantage of these dense breeding aggregations. We knew that certain insectivores – like birds and lizards – avoid eating fireflies because they’re toxic. So we didn’t expect to find many predators enjoying this luminous feast. Little did we realize how gore-filled that summer would turn out to be!*
* You can read our Dark Side paper here: Lewis, S.M., L. Faust, and R. De Cock. 2012. The Dark Side of the Light Show: Predators of Fireflies in Great Smoky Mountains. Psyche, 634027.
Each autumn the world seems aglow with foliage and jack-o-lanterns. But they’re not the only glowing things lighting up this season. Fall is also a great time to spot the crawling, glow-in-the-dark stage that all juvenile fireflies pass through.
Glowing firefly larvae (left) and pupae (photo by Siah St. Clair)
Hatched from eggs laid during summer months, these firefly larvae can now be seen crawling along roadsides or wooded paths, glowing dimly from two tiny lanterns. Photuris and Pyractomena larvae are the two types seen most often in the U.S. But one reader in Portland, Oregon even spotted the much rarer Douglas fir glow-worm, Pterotus, along a path in Mt. Tabor Park. Continue reading →