Fireflies!

Last night we saw fireflies for the first time this year. They usually appear in early spring (September) for a couple of weeks, so this year they’re a little early. The males fly and flash, looking for answering flashes from the non-flying females. This website says:

The light is created by an enzyme (luciferase) which reacts with other chemicals in the insect’s body to produce light energy. The firefly regulates the emission of light by controlling the amount of air supplied to the cells. The regularity and intensity of the flashing may help fireflies identify males and females.

I don’t have a photo – it would just show bright lights on a black background, probably out of focus as I rush madly after them – they fly fast – but there are  several photos at the website of the Springbrook Research Centre. Springbrook is a couple of hours north of us. [Update: You can see the beautiful flight paths of fireflies here.]

There are 25 species of firefly in Australia. I don’t know what ours is but it could be Atyphella atra, based on distribution.

In a TV documentary, David Attenborough once lured a firefly to settle on his hand by synchronising a torch flash with the firefly’s. I haven’t tried that myself.

Adults are 6-8 mm long and live only a few days; their only purpose is to breed, as they don’t feed. The larvae apparently feed on snails, which they chase by following their slime trails, then paralyse.

I first saw fireflies in Thailand, wandering through a jungle with some kids from the local village to see a movie on a giant open-air screen. (It was one of the spaghetti westerns, filmed in English but dubbed into Thai with Chinese subtitles – trying to work out what was going on was one of the weirder experiences I have had, akin to watching the fabulous Monkey on TV in Japan with very little knowledge of Japanese.)

There were hundreds of fireflies flashing in the bushes and in the air (rather than the dozens here), and because I had never heard of such things, it was really magic – you know you’re travelling rather than being a tourist when this sort of thing happens.

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3 Responses to Fireflies!

  1. I grew up chasing fireflies during the summer in Ohio (midwest USA) but they haven’t managed to expand their territory past the Rocky Mountains, so I miss them now that I live in Oregon on the west coast. (We also lack the pretty red cardinal birds and lovely monarch butterflies from back east…) But I’ve had that experience of seeing hundreds of them flashing–and I agree–it is magical!

  2. Kathy Pearce says:

    Hi Joy, Great to hear you have fireflies. We have been going to our property near Bellbrook (west of Kempsey) for more than 20 years and started noticing fireflies about 10 years ago. So we make our firefly festival on the October long weekend, usually. This year we are going to try to spot them earlier, as you have suggested. Yes, it seems such a magical experience. We call them “fairies”. Some years they come up from the depths of the valley in waves and are plentiful. Other years they are sparsely populated. Just when you think they are not there, one appears and delights you. Of course, now we know more, from reading your great notes. Thank you!

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