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You might not really be sure you saw what you think you saw when the first one shows up. But you stare in the direction of the flicker of light and there it is again—the first firefly of the evening. If you are in good firefly habitat, soon there are dozens, or even hundreds, of the insects flying about, flashing their mysterious signals.
Fireflies—alternatively known as lightning bugs in much of the United States—are neither flies nor bugs. They're soft-winged beetles, related to click beetles and others. The most dramatic aspect of their biology is that they can produce light; this ability in a living organism, called bioluminescence, is relatively rare.
Entomologist - Research - Teaches - Ecology - Biology
I'm an entomologist who does research on, and teaches about, the ecology and biology of insects. Recently, I've been trying to understand the diversity and ecology of fireflies in my home state of North Carolina. Fireflies are found widely across North America, including many places in the west, but they are most abundant and diverse in the eastern half of the continent, from Florida to southern Canada.
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.
Fireflies - Ability - Way - Predators - Ability
Fireflies probably originally evolved the ability to light up as a way to ward off predators, but now they mostly use this ability to find mates. Interestingly, not all fireflies produce light; there are several species that are day-flying and apparently rely on the odors of pheromones to find each other.
Each firefly species has its own signaling system. In most North American species, the males fly around at the right height, in the right habitat and at the right time of night for their...
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