Flash! Aaaah!

Cue Queen’s theme music from “Flash Gordon” and replace the zooming spaceships in that film with fireflies!

Firefly season started a couple of weeks early this year and lasts only for a fortnight or so each year. It’s lovely to stand outside just after full dark and watch the little lights flashing and hurtling around.

I’ve written about them before, but could not then get a photo. This time, one was caught in a spider’s web outside the window and I rushed to save it (sorry to steal your meal, spider). I placed it on the porch railing to recover and took some photos while waiting. It is not a pretty beetle, but the special effects make up for that.

This species is probably the Blue Mountains firefly, Atyphella lychnus, which has a range from Sydney to south-east Queensland. It is one of 25 species in Australia, but the only one in this region. Despite the name, they are not flies, but beetles.

Blue Mountains firefly, Atyphella lychnus

I thought the small spider had beaten me to it, but the firefly recovered and started flashing normally again. It was about the length of my thumbnail.

Firefly underside, showing the light-producing organs that contain the chemicals which react to form the flashes

The males do the most flashing, with the females responding. The very large eyes help the beetles locate their opposite numbers in the dark. Each species has its own rate of flashing. Do you remember watching Sir David Attenborough luring one onto his hand by synchronising his flashlight flashes with those of the beetle?

The adults don’t have mouthparts, so can’t feed and live only a few days. Eggs are laid in moist ground near ponds or streams, in boggy areas and in leaf litter, so it’s best to maintain these on your property if you can. The eggs hatch into larvae three or four weeks later. They follow the slime trails of worms, slugs and snails, seize them, inject them with poison and eat them.

Larvae hibernate over winter, burrowing underground or hiding under tree bark. They turn into adults in spring, emerging for the very brief breeding season.

Here is a charming YouTube video where you can see quite a lot of detail of the beetles themselves as they fly and flash.

The first time I saw fireflies I was wandering in a forest at night in Thailand during a backpacking trip. There were so many – it looked like the twinkling stars had come to roost in the trees. We don’t have that many, but they are still absolutely magical.

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6 Responses to Flash! Aaaah!

  1. Prue Gargano says:

    What an interesting post! I now know lots more about these fascinating beetles. Thanks Joy!

  2. Christa Schwoebel says:

    Hello Joy, How interesting to catch (well, the spider did it) a firefly and take photos. Very pretty Youtube video. The only place I’ve seen fireflies in Australia was near the Protester Falls camping area. We used to see them in the beech forest near the village I grew up in.

    At the moment I really enjoy watching the birds around here. I realised that the return of species like the Superb Fairy Wrens could be due to the disappearance of the Indian Mynas. Plovers near the front of my place are living more dangerously than ever. About two weeks ago I saw the chicks for the first time, three of them, and the wole family keeps crossing the road. They spend the middle of each day on the other side in the ditch. When the adults take the chicks across, they give very clear “stop” and “go” screeches. Still, I can’t believe they made so far without losses.

    I’ve also gone for quite a few walks. Some are explorations of trails I haven’t walked before, others are favourites, like “The Wildflower Walk”. Last week the flanell flowers were just opening.

    Stay well Christa



  3. Kath says:

    Hi Joy. Thank you so much for sharing the fireflies.
    At Nulla, west of Kempsey, we got them without fail during the long weekend beginning October.
    To us, it was magical, just like the video you shared.
    Because of the height (300 metres above sea level) we used to get them coming in waves, wafting up like fairies from the depths of the forest floor, on the balmy breezes that easily carried their little bodies.
    The last time we saw a firefly was in about 2015, in our tent, at Mataranka Springs, in the Top End. There could have been more there, but no-one else commented. It was a mystery why one came into our tent.

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