Synchronized Dance of the Fireflies

Synchronized Dance of the Fireflies

As we finish out the school year and approach summer, our kids’ thoughts – and perhaps our own – turn towards summer months and outdoor activities. One of the fondest memories we have is chasing lightning bugs in the dusk hours and later watching our kids do the same.

But you may not be aware that certain fireflies are special. Not only do they illuminate the warm summer nights, but in some places, for a short time, they all light up at the same time.

Lightning Bugs

There are around 2000 species of Lampyridae beetles that use bioluminescence to attract mates, communicate with others of their species, and sometimes use as an attack mechanism to defend their territory from predators.

They live for about 2 months, mostly in humid areas of North and South America and Asia. Their diet is mostly pollen and nectar, but in a pinch, they can eat just about anything.

Their glow comes from a chemical process that takes place in their tails. Every firefly has luciferase and luciferin in their system. The names come from the Latin for light. Luciferase is an enzyme that sparks emission of light and luciferin is heat resistant but glows under the right conditions.

They also have ATP – we all do. Adenosine TriPhosphate is the energy source for our cells. It’s how we grow and heal but it’s also what makes our muscles contract and our nerves send signals to the brain. In fireflies, it has an interesting side effect.

Once ATP hits the luciferin, it causes a chain reaction with the luciferase and produces the most efficient light in the world – a light in an insect’s rear end. In certain parts of the ocean you can see the same effect with bioluminescent plankton.

All in all it’s a cool light show – but it’s also leading us to a better understanding of cancer, how tumors grow, and how to treat it.

Snappy Single Sync

Of the 2000 species of fireflies, only three in North America can be called synchronous: Photuris frontalis, Photinus carolinus, and Photinus knulli. And even these species aren’t synchronized all of the time – just during their mating season.

For two to three weeks, from mid-May to mid-June, these lightning bugs are in a rush to mate. And for whatever reason, they attract each other by blinking in sync. We won’t see them here in Florida, but if you happen to be vacationing in May or June, you can stop by their central habitat in the Appalachian Mountains.

Every year, Congaree National Park hosts several days of their Synchronous Fireflies Viewing Event. For 2024, the event is May 16-25. The park will close early and admission to the event is coordinated through a lottery for a limited number of passes through the website.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to 19 species of fireflies, including Photinus carolinus. The synchronous light display is slow to start here, with just a few fireflies at first, then rising to a peak, then dropping off as their mating season ends. Since they first started tracking fireflies in 1993, the peak date has occurred at various times from the third week of May to the third week in June. This year, the peak viewing time is June 3 through June 10. Since Covid, it has also operated on a lottery system.

Unfortunately, the lottery has already closed for both parks this year. However, if you have a camping reservation at Great Smoky Mountains, you may still be able catch the unique light show.

Synchronous fireflies can also be spotted at Oak Ridge Wildlife Management Area, Allegheny National Forest, and Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park.

Local Light Show

In Florida, we have two main species of lightning bugs: Florida intertidal firefly (Micronaspis floridana) and the keel-necked firefly (Pyractomena ecostata) – both can be seen around our Gulf Coast as well as near Miami. In the Orlando area you can also catch the Florida scrub dark firefly (Lucidota luteicollis) and the ant-loving scrub firefly (Pleotomodes needhami).

It’s not recommended that you capture lightning bugs any more. While they only live for a few months, many of the species are decreasing in population and visibility. Part of this is due to  issues with our continuing human expansion across their habitat and the use of artificial lights that also affect moths.

Not only does light pollution confuse some fireflies, it can interrupt or disrupt their mating and communication or make them more visible and vulnerable to predators. Entomologists also recommend minimal use of chemical pesticides during the summer, as they can do damage to the firefly and its habitat.

Thankfully, Good News Pest Solutions has made it their business for more than 35 years to use the greenest, safest insect treatments we can find. Our aim is to protect you and your family as well as the planet we all live on. Our Go Green Perimeter Plus takes care of the most common creepy crawlies in our part of Florida, and its as effective as it is affordable. So turn off some of those outdoor lights so all of our grandkids can see fireflies too, and for more information on our products and services, just give us a call!


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