The Blug: Fireflies - Scienceline (2023)

Bug Blog

The eminent, illuminated summer insect

M.K. Manoylov July 20, 2020

The Blug: Fireflies - Scienceline (1)

Touch a firefly and their illuminated backside will be cold. Unlike the hot light produced from a lightbulb, the firefly's light-producing chemical reaction prevents them from overheating. [MK Manoylov | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Arthropoda

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Class: Insecta

Order: Coleoptera

Family: Lampyridae

Plot twist: Fireflies — the insects you see illuminating muggy summer nights and often find trapped in children’s mason jars — aren’t flies at all.

Wait, they’re not flies?

Repeat: fireflies are not flies. You’ve been duped your whole life!

Fireflies are in the order Coleoptera, which is reserved for beetles. And fireflies certainly have the characteristic of beetles — even if their butts do glow.

The biggest beetle characteristic is that the wings tuck underneath structures called elytra. Elytra protects the beetle’s delicate wings and abdomen from damage.

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You might have noticed ladybugs (another type of beetle) look like their red/orange back side splits apart before they take flight. The same deal happens with fireflies and other beetles — the elytra needs to lift, revealing their wings and allowing them to fly.

The following video depicts elytra lifting and revealing wings on ladybugs pretty well. I couldn’t find another video showing the same detail for fireflies, but you get the point.

Houseflies, dragonflies, butterflies, moths, and other winged insects don’t have elytra, so they’re in categories separate from beetles.

So, in all, everything you know is a lie and fireflies are actually beetles.

How do fireflies glow?

Like certain jellyfish, algae, and fish, fireflies are bioluminescent — meaning they create light within themselves.

Fireflies use oxygen, a chemical called luciferin, the enzyme luciferase, and energy from food to produce a light-forming chemical reaction. Fireflies control the amount of light they produce by regulating how much oxygen enters this chemical reaction.

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But this chemical reaction isn’t the same as a lightbulb, which gets hot if you keep it on for too long. The firefly’s chemical reaction doesn’t produce heat, which allows them to continue flashing without burning themselves out.

And just light how flashlights are only effective in the dark, so too do fireflies only appear at night. Otherwise that super cool chemical reaction would lose its utility.

Okay, so then why do fireflies glow?

Why do Luna moths only live for a week? Why do Hercules beetles have such large horns? Really, why do adult insects do anything? They have eggs to lay, and so adult bugs gotta get laid to do it.

Fireflies flash light at other fireflies to find a mate. Since there are over 2,000 firefly species, individual species have a unique mating pattern so that members of the same species can find each other. Females create a pattern and males come a-flockin’.

But some fireflies know another way to use flashing patterns. Fireflies under the genus Photuris mimic the flashing patterns of the genus Photinus, attract those males, and eat them.

The fireflies may look pretty at night, but some of them could be lured and eaten before your eyes. That definitely throws a wrench in the romantic aesthetic of Lampyridae. But hey, it’s a beetle-eat-beetle world out here.


What makes a firefly glow answer key? ›

Fireflies produce light in special organs in their abdomens by combining a chemical called luciferin, enzymes called luciferases, oxygen and the fuel for cellular work, ATP. Entomologists think they control their flashing by regulating how much oxygen goes to their light-producing organs.

How do fireflies glow mystery solved after 60 years? ›

In new research, Branchini and his colleagues did just that: They found an extra oxygen electron that's responsible for the beetles' summertime glow.

Why did firefly call the lightning bug as a fly answer? ›

Lightning bugs and fireflies are the exact same insect. The terms are the result of distinct regional dialects.

Do both male and female fireflies light up? ›

In some species, only the larvae or females glow, and these wingless individuals are known as glow-worms. In other species, males and females both have wings and emit a luminescent display – these are called fireflies, or lightning bugs.

Why do fireflies glow at night 10 Answer? ›

Firefly secretes the enzyme luciferase. This enzyme reacts with luciferin which carries out oxidation of magnesium. This happens in the presence of magnesium and oxygen. Light is emitted because of the oxidation of magnesium.

How is the glow of fireflies explained in chemistry? ›

This type of light production is called bioluminescence. The method by which fireflies produce light is perhaps the best known example of bioluminescence. When oxygen combines with calcium, adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and the chemical luciferin in the presence of luciferase, a bioluminescent enzyme, light is produced.

What is the story about where did all the fireflies go? ›

A young boy named Tonyo and a firefly named Ningning are best friends. They grow up together until one day, Ningning and the other fireflies are forced to leave town because of pollution. Tonyo did whatever he could to make the fireflies return.

How did fireflies inspire LED lights? ›

The scientists identified an unexpected pattern of jagged scales that enhanced the lanterns' glow, and applied that knowledge to LED design. The nighttime twinkling of fireflies has inspired scientists to modify a light-emitting diode (LED) so it is more than one and a half times as efficient as the original.

Why do we not see fireflies anymore? ›

Turns out, firefly numbers are decreasing all over the country and all over the world. According to Ben Pfeiffer of, most of us are seeing a decline in numbers of the Big Dipper firefly (Photinus pyralis) due to several factors: light pollution, pesticide use, and loss of habitat from development.

What is the real name for lightning bugs? ›

firefly, (family Lampyridae), also called lightning bug, any of some 2,000 species of beetles (insect order Coleoptera) found in most tropical and temperate regions that have special light-producing organs on the underside of the abdomen. Most fireflies are nocturnal, although some species are diurnal.

What things larger than a fly are mentioned in the poem? ›

The poet also talks about the size of the things those look small to us are huge to the fly. The poet talks about a flower which is a beautiful thing to us but when the fly sees it, the thorns on the flower would look like a weapon to it.

What is the poem fireflies about? ›

The poem, basically tells us about a young girl who loves the summer night because it is both warm and dark but especially because of the fireflies that fly softly in all the directions whether it is the apple tree or the grass ; they glow and emit light in all the directions.

Can fireflies get pregnant? ›

The females remain on the ground and attract the males with a specific flash of their own. After mating, the female will lay up to 500 eggs in damp soil. At night, fireflies crawl to the tops of blades of grass and fly into tree branches to signal for mates.

Do fireflies glow when there is true love? ›

If you remember the very first episode then Nandu tells her friend that fire flies glow only when there is true love. And the fireflies were glowing today as well, so according to KY2 land there is true love between MaNan.

Where do fireflies go after dark? ›

Fireflies light up after dark in order to attract mates. Since fireflies are nocturnal insects, they spend most of their daylight hours on the ground amongst tall grasses. Long grass helps to hide fireflies during the day, so you're unlikely to see them unless you're on your hands and knees looking for them.

What are 2 reasons fireflies tails glow? ›

How Do Fireflies Glow? Photocytes, or light cells, in the insect's abdomen are where the glow is produced. This light, the result of the chemical reaction of bioluminescence, occurs when two substances, luciferin and luciferase, react with one another when exposed to oxygen.

Do fireflies blink or glow? ›

Fireflies flash in patterns that are unique to each species. Each blinking pattern is used to help them find potential mates. Male fireflies typically fly through the air in search of a female by emitting a species-specific flashing pattern. Some fireflies only flash once, while others do so up to nine times.

Why do fireflies glow different colors? ›

Scientists have discovered that the light-emitting luciferin molecule in fireflies can produce different colors of light depending on different polarities inside the molecule.

What is the chemical equation for firefly? ›

Firefly luciferin (LH2) has the chemical formula [(S)-2-(6′-hydroxy-2′-benzothiazolyl)-2-thiazoline-4-carboxylic acid] [Fig.

How is the light reaction in the firefly inhibited? ›

D-luciferin is the substrate for firefly luciferase's bioluminescence reaction, while L-luciferin is the substrate for luciferyl-CoA synthetase activity. Both reactions are inhibited by the substrate's enantiomer: L-luciferin and D-luciferin inhibit the bioluminescence pathway and the CoA-ligase pathway, respectively.

What energy transformation is a glowing firefly? ›

organism that has a light-producing Page 2 Name Day 2 Weekly Question What makes fireflies glow? Fireflies glow as a result of a biochemical reaction called bioluminescence, which converts chemical energy to radiant energy.

Did Firefly have an ending? ›

As a result, Kate and Tully completely lose contact. Eventually, the pair reconcile after Kate reveals her breast cancer diagnosis. Tully helps her during her cancer journey but the book sadly ends with Kate dying of breast cancer and the impact it has on Marah and Tully.

What was the most unforgettable scene in the grave of fireflies? ›

Setsuko's death scene is incredibly powerful. Not only is she suffering from malnutrition, but hallucinations as well. She tries to eat a marble, thinking it's her favorite hard candy.

What happens to fireflies at the end of summer? ›

The eggs hatch three to four weeks later, and the larvae feed until the end of the summer. Fireflies hibernate over winter during the larval stage. Some do this by burrowing underground, while others find places on or under the bark of trees. The larvae then emerge from hibernation in the spring.

How efficient is firefly light? ›

Using asymmetrical pyramids to create microstructured surfaces, the team found that they could improve light extraction efficiency to around 90 percent.

How do fireflies use light communication? ›

As you saw in your backyard, many fireflies use light to communicate. Light is a signal: During the light displays at twilight or night, fireflies signal to each other. Each firefly species emits a unique color of light between green to yellow or even orange!

Why is there no fireflies in Florida? ›

We have so many species of fireflies because they prefer warm, wet climates. But as we drain the swamps and build up and through the forested sections, there are fewer places for them to meet and procreate.

Why doesn't Texas have fireflies? ›

There is really no native habitat left in Houston for any of the unique species, so what you find in Houston is just the common type of firefly—Photinus pyralis.

Why are fireflies not in California? ›

If you live in the West (as I do now) and wonder why you have never seen a firefly, it is probably because many of our western species are active during the day, potentially communicating with pheromones rather than light. In other species, the larvae or adult females may glow, but adult males do not produce light.

What is Spider lightning? ›

Spider lightning refers to long, horizontally traveling flashes often seen on the underside of stratiform clouds. Spider lightning is often linked to +CG flashes.

Are lightning bugs fairies? ›

Of course, fireflies, also called lightning bugs, are not fairies. Neither are they flies (Diptera) or bugs (Hemiptera), but are instead flying beetles (Coleoptera).

What eats lightning bugs? ›

Fireflies are distasteful to some lizards, birds, and mammals. Predators that possibly specialize on fireflies are certain birds (Caprimulgidae, Nyctibiidae), spiders (Lycosidae, Araneidae), certain anoles (Iquanidae) and frogs. Female Photuris spp.

What is the main theme of the poem The Fly? ›

The central theme of The Fly is death. Death is combined with other themes, including grief, forgetting, and survival. In the end, all plot points lead toward death.

What is the central argument of the poem The Fly? ›

In the poem The Fly, William Blake compares his life and death to that of a fly which he happens to kill unintentionally and finally advises the man to enjoy every day like the fly because no one knows when God will take away our life.

What is the most appropriate theme of the poem The Fly? ›

Grief and mourning are the primary themes in ''The Fly.

What figurative language is fireflies? ›

In “Fireflies”, by Owl City, Adam Young is trying to show his vivid dreams when he was young by using many figurative languages such as simile, metaphor, hyperbole, personification, and repetition. In the famous single,“Fireflies”, there are many uses of similes and metaphors to show his vivid dreams when he was young.

What is a metaphor in fireflies? ›

4 minutes. The magical symbolism of fireflies suggests that we can all be lights in the midst of darkness. It suggests that if you awaken your potential and sense of hope, you can also help others illuminate their most difficult moments.

What do fireflies remind you of? ›

The spiritual meaning of a firefly or lightning bug sighting

Fireflies remind us that it's the small, simple things in life that matter the most. They inspire us to take a moment to slow down, ground ourselves in the moment, and appreciate all that surrounds us.

Are lightning bugs poisonous to eat? ›

They can be poisonous. When predators attack, they start “reflex bleeding,” and produce drops of blood filled with nasty chemicals that are poisonous to lizards and birds. They're not great for humans, either, so don't try eating them!

Are lightning bugs male or female? ›

To be sure about the gender of a lightning bug you'll need to catch it and look at the belly. Male Photinus firefly light organs are in the last two segments of their abdomens, while females' light organs are only in the second-to-last segment.

Do fireflies have feelings? ›

As far as entomologists are concerned, insects do not have pain receptors the way vertebrates do. They don't feel 'pain,' but may feel irritation and probably can sense if they are damaged. Even so, they certainly cannot suffer because they don't have emotions.

Why do fireflies glow only at night? ›

This happens in the presence of magnesium and oxygen. Light is emitted because of the oxidation of magnesium. Due to this, fireflies glow at night.

Do both firefly sexes light up? ›

In some species, only the larvae or females glow, and these wingless individuals are known as glow-worms. In other species, males and females both have wings and emit a luminescent display – these are called fireflies, or lightning bugs.

How long can a firefly glow? ›

Some species may “call” for many hours a night, while others flash for only 20 minutes or so right at dusk. Firefly light communication can get much more complicated; some species have multiple signaling systems, and some might use their light organs for other purposes.

Do female fireflies glow? ›

Why do fireflies glow? One reason that fireflies glow is to attract a mate. Males and females of the same species will flash signals back and forth as a way of communicating. Each firefly species has its own particular pattern.

How long do fireflies live? ›

A firefly typically lives for approximately two months in the wild. Anecdotal evidence suggests that firefly populations may be on the decline. Fireflies live in fields, meadows, forests, and other natural habitats, and these areas are becoming fewer due to development.

What makes a firefly glow Utah? ›

Fireflies are filled with a nasty-tasting chemical called lucibufagens, and after a predator gets a mouthful, it quickly learns to associate the firefly's glow with this bad taste! So not only does the flashing help attract a mate, it also warns predators to stay away.

What gene makes fireflies glow? ›

The color of firefly bioluminescence is determined by the structure of luciferase. Firefly luciferase genes have been isolated from more than 30 species, producing light ranging in color from green to orange-yellow.

What makes a firefly glow for kids? ›

They have special organs under their abdomens that take in oxygen. Inside special cells, they combine the oxygen with a substance called luciferin to make light with almost no heat. They use this light, called bioluminescence, to light up the ends of their abdomen.

Why do fireflies glow up? ›

How Do Lightning Bugs Light Up? Fireflies have a light organ located in their lower abdomen. In this part of their body, a biochemical reaction called “bioluminescence” (bio-loo-muh-neh-sense) takes place that allows them to convert chemical energy into the glowing light that we see.

Do lightning bugs smell? ›

So catch all the fireflies you want. The only downside may be the foul smell they leave on your hands. The odor comes from defensive chemicals the fireflies secrete to deter predators. Birds, spiders and lizards have learned that fireflies will make them sick, so they leave them alone.

What makes the firefly unique? ›

Fireflies have dedicated light organs that are located under their abdomens. The insects take in oxygen and, inside special cells, combine it with a substance called luciferin to produce light with almost no heat. Firefly light is usually intermittent, and flashes in patterns that are unique to each species.

Can firefly turn off light? ›

Adult fireflies, however, can turn the light both on and off; they can practice flash control. Years of accumulated evidence suggest strongly that flash control is essentially oxygen control. Certainly insects appear for several reasons uniquely suited to have evolved the ability to use oxygen as a control mechanism.

Can fireflies change color? ›

Fireflies can glow in a few different colors – yellow, green, and red – although the same chemical reaction occurs for each. The color change is controlled by the pH level inside the light organ. At neutral or basic pH, the light is green or yellow. As the pH becomes more acidic, the light is red.

Why do fireflies change color? ›

Fireflies, which are not flies but beetles, produce flashes of light in order to communicate with each other and to attract mates. The color of light emitted by the luceferin molecule in fireflies can range from red to yellow to green.

Can fireflies glow blue? ›

The bluish color of the blue ghost firefly is unusual among fireflies. Unlike other fireflies who turn their lights on and off, blue ghosts stay lit for up to a minute. Also, the females do not fly but situate themselves on the forest floor and glow faintly.

Do fireflies glow yellow or green? ›

Each species has its own pattern of light flashing. (3) In some places at some times, fireflies synchronize their flashing. (4) Firefly light can be yellow, green or orange. (5) Firefly larvae may glow, even some that live underground or under water.

What do fireflies symbolize? ›

Fireflies remind us that it's the small, simple things in life that matter the most. They inspire us to take a moment to slow down, ground ourselves in the moment, and appreciate all that surrounds us.

Can humans glow like fireflies? ›

The human body literally glows, emitting a visible light in extremely small quantities at levels that rise and fall with the day, scientists now reveal. Past research has shown that the body emits visible light, 1,000 times less intense than the levels to which our naked eyes are sensitive.

Are fireflies friendly? ›

Unlike many other insects, fireflies give off a friendly vibe. They do not sting or bite. They will not eat your crops or become a pest in the garden. They have an almost magical quality of lighting up the dark.


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