Title: Fireflyer companion and letter
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00089448/00002
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Title: Fireflyer companion and letter
Series Title: Fireflyer companion and letter
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Creator: Department of Entomology. University of Florida.
Publisher: Department of Entomology. University of Florida.
Publication Date: Spring 1996
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Volume ID: VID00002
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Fre lyer ConMpatniov

& Letter

Vol. 1, Number 2 Spring 1996

Fireflies At Risk UPDATE

Fireflyer. firefly + er. n. short forfirefly
chaser. A person who thinks about

FIREFLIES USA 26/4/96: For many years, without success I have tried to get entomologists who are
knowledgeable of pesticides, their modes of action, application and side-effects, interested in determining
the impact of various chemicals on fireflies and firefly populations. As you may recall from the first
issue of the Companion the question was raised as to whether such chemicals are adversely affecting fire-
flies and may be contributing to the obvious decline in their numbers that has been noted b so many firefly
watchers. It is easy to imagine that they could, directly and/or indirectly through the food chain. Recently
an entomologist in west Florida who is involved in a mosquito control program contacted me about re-
search he wished to conduct on the effects of mosquito adulticides on fireflies. Though the investigation is
being slowed by the unusually cold spring, we may eventually have our first hard data on the matter. (ft)

Introducing Fireflies

Deaur Ff tyerw Fireflies are not flies, they are beetles and
most Americans call them lightningbugs. Not only do different
people call them by different names, but they have used them for
different ideas, concepts and spirits ghosts of ancestors, bits of
truth in a dark world, foreboding of evil, triviality. They comprise
one of several families of so-called Leatherwing Beetles, and are
found on every continent except Antarctica. Their formal family
name is Lampyridae. Worldwide there are over 1900 species that
have been formally named, but I am certain that this is but half or
fewer of those that are out there to be named. Over 170 species
occur in North America, more than 50 on the tiny island of Jamaica,
at least 30 are found in New York state and over 50 occur in Florida.
The firefly-richest region of North America probably occurs along
a 30-mile-wide swath on the Florida-Georgia border from the Big
Bend Coast to the Okefenokee Swamp. In spring and summer in
the eastern United States thousands of flying flashing males of many
different species can be seen as they fly over meadows, fields, and
marshes, emitting their amber, yellow, or green-yellow light, but
west of Kansas flashers are a novelty in spite of past failed attempts
by enthusiasts to introduce them.
The firefly's living light, which is a form of chemiluminescence
known as bioluminescence, is neither electrical spark nor brief
glimpse into a flaming furnace within. It is a chemical reaction in
which visible light energy is released. The reaction involves the
oxidation (a chemical burning) of luciferin, the light-emitting mol-
ecule; adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy-rich molecule that
is the immediate source of energy for the numerous functions in-
volved in movement and growth in all organisms; luciferase, the
enzyme that catalyzes the reaction; and a co-factor, magnesium or
manganese, which works with luciferase to "facilitate" the reac-
tion. The emission of a flashing firefly is triggered by nerve im-
pulses to the lantern. When removed from the tail of the firefly by

various chemical treatments, or when firefly genes are put into other
organisms, the photochemicals and photochemistry can be used for
several applications in research and medicine, but it destroys the
magic that inspired poets such as Tagore and Shelley. Some might
argue that it is a new poetry for a new century that has been pro-
duced, but would they miss the point, about reaching for finer things?
While there may well be a poetry in technology, for many of us
technology is never poetry, and is perhaps one of the many reasons
we seek out poetry.
If you spent your childhood with the flashing species of eastern
North America, then fireflies are more than mere insects. They are
glowing stripes smeared on shirts and foreheads, a Mason jar of
flashes gathered from the front lawn at dusk and carried quickly-
dark. Flashing fireflies met the colonists in Jamestown, and danced
on the prairie with a fiddle and Sweet Betsy from Pike. Once there
were plans for them to go with an even bigger fire in the tail though
in a form retaining little of their romantic selves to outer space to
hunt for extra-terrestrial life, but they were bumped.
A firefly's luminescence first appears in the embryo stage when
the beetle is still within the egg "shell," though the shell (chorion)
of the egg may also have been smeared with a short-lived glow as it
passed down its mother's egg canal. After hatching and for the next
weeks, months, or years depending on the lifecycle and local
ecology of the species the larva glows from its two tiny posterior
lanterns. The known larvae of all fireflies are luminous, even the
larvae of species in which the adults have lost (over a very long
time), their ability to shine. Why do larvae glow, for they are too
young for sex, we presume? There have been numerous guesses
over the past 100 years, yet no one knows for certain. You might
look into this, and it should sustain your faith in nature and appre-
ciation of pure biology. Is it not true that a subject too complex for

74" 41d t, 0- pur CAr OAmuu &

us to ever fully comprehend is thus especially appealing, reassur-
ing, and beautiful for the right-minded and thoughtful?
The function of larval light could be related to the predatory be-
havior of the larvae. They hunt snails, earthworms, larvae of other
insects, and probably other soft-bodied animals on and in the soil,
depending on what kind of firefly they are. Once it was suggested
that the glowworms (a term sometimes applied to firefly larvae)
attract prey with their light. This idea is a natural, and may have
been stimulated by accounts of the predatory habits of luminous
fungus gnats in New Zealand caves, or by watching flying insects
attracted to porch lights. One guess is that the larvae of some spe-
cies may use the glow as a call to arms. Because they sometimes
hunt large snails or other prey, and each larva has a limited poison
reserve with which to stun prey and could not possibly eat a big
snail all by itself, maybe larvae call others to join a chase and gang
up to subdue a giant. There is little evidence, circumstantial or oth-
erwise, to support this notion. Commonly several larvae are found
feeding upon the same kill, and after larvae of one species redis-
covered the trail of a snail that they had been following, but mo-
mentarily lost, they again began to luminesce. Probably the light is
used in several ways for several functions. Another promising but
difficult to prove notion would be that larvae sometimes use their
glows to coordinate life history events, such as pupating. In Japan
when aquatic larvae leave the water to pupate on shore they all
glow brightly as they walk up the bank to find a spot.
When the larval form of the beetle has completed its function
(i.e., role, purpose) that of growing larger and storing energy -
the insect begins the dramatic, almost magical transformation dur-
ing which it will rebuild itself completely and produce the body-
form that is adapted for sex and reproduction. The period (=growth
- stage) of rebuilding, generally termed the pupa, has sometimes
been referred to as the resting stage, and it takes place in many
insects including butterflies, flies, and fleas. Far from resting, the
firefly builds wings, flight muscles, wing-covers, big and complex
eyes with innumerable facets, long antennae, new neural circuits,
and a new set of behavioral and physiological programs, patterns,
and responses.
For this change of life, which may take a week or a month, the
firefly hides itself. Larvae ofPyractomena limbicollis Green (a fire-
fly of southeastern United States) climb up on tree trunks, bushes,
and vines, and sometimes in a crack or crevice they glue their tails
down. They "undress" by wriggling and squirming, while hanging
upside down by what might be called their tail-end toes. Then they
hang like a butterfly chrysalid for nearly two weeks. The pupa is
cryptically (concealingly) colored and on some tree bark can be
difficult to find. The larvae of Pyractomena fireflies are occasion-
ally seen glowing, and on damp nights in damp woods they are
sometimes found lit up as they walk up the trunks and along the
branches of shrubs and trees. In general, Pyractomena species are
rarer than those of our other flashing genera, Photinus and Photuris,
and the habitats of many species are easily made unsuitable for them
- low woods cut (as useless wasteland), and swamps and marshes
In contrast to the aerial/arboreal transformation of Pyractomena
fireflies, species of Photinus and Photuris are subterranean pupaters.
Larvae of the genus Photuris are the most commonly seen glow-
worms in North America, for not only are they very common, as
larvae they spend much time walking on the ground, presumably
hunting, and often glow while doing it. Larvae of Photinus fireflies
spend most of their time underground and rarely are seen glowing;
though there are exceptions.

But back to Photuris 'metamorphosis habits: the larvae dig a pit
in the soil, climb in it, and continue to dig. They make soil crumbs
into little pellets, and from the inside of their digs they form it into
an igloo-shaped hut. After a few days in seclusion they shed their
larval skins, and, in a reclining position on their back, reorganize
their form and function and become bor-again lighting-up bugs.
The verb eclose is used to refer to both the hatching of the egg -
when the embryo emerges from the shell to become a first instar
larva and the emergence of the untanned and ghostly pale generall)
adult, fresh from the pupa.
Two features of Photuris firefly pupation are really different from
those of Pyractomena fireflies, and are related to the site that it
uses for its metamorphosis that is, its transformation. The
Photuris pupa is not pigmented, but is ghost white, and it readily
turns on its light when it is touched. The lack of pigment may be
adaptive in two respects. First, when the light is turned on the en-
tire animal glows because its translucent tissues conduct the light.
The light in this case may deter potential predators or subterranean
wanderers that break into the chamber and might damage the trans-
former. This idea was generated ("notioned") by one of my stu-
dents long ago, Larry Buschman, from his work on soil-inhabiting
species, and me, from studies of species that spend their juvenile
stages in rotten pine logs. We have not tested it, but it is thusly
stated: since animals that live in the humid confines of the soil,
rotten wood, or other dense media may have evolved negative re-
sponses to light because light would be an indicator of the lethal
outside world of low humidity and sharp-eyed predators the light
of the juvenile firefly may mimic daylight (above ground) and some-
times cause a soil- or log-inhabiting predator to quickly, at first
sight, turn and move in another direction. Secondly, to build pig-
ments may be expensive in ATP coinage of stored energy. A saving
in pigment cost could be used to build more eggs, or make avail-
able more stored energy for mate-seeking activities later. Cost-ben-
efit ratios and energy budgets are of some importance in the lives
of many organisms, though perhaps sometimes their presumptive
penny-wisdom is greatly overrated. I am not fond of either of these
ideas, but they are there to think about, test, and improve on or put
at the bottom of the plausibility list.
After the new Pyractomena limbicollis adult is formed, the fire-
fly bursts through the front end of the pupal skin and crawls, squirms,
and wriggles, and slides slowly out of it. The cuticle of the new
adult is mostly white at this moment, but it gradually becomes char-
coal- and rose-colored, and then black and red. Color changes are
accompanied by hardening of the cuticle and a firming of the muscle
attachments within, and in a few hours the adult beetle, fresh and
sparking like a new automobile, is able to move about with vigor,
and to fly the first time it tries, virtually without practice. Amazing
magic on the wing and all lit up.
With the setting of the sun on the first day of adulthood the events
that are most apt to catch
the human eye and fancy
can begin. Because there J.E. Lloyd (Ed.), with Mara
is an incredible amount of Addison, and Joshua Trotter.
variation among the fire- Mailing Address: Fireflies, De-
flies, a single description apartment of Entomology &
could not serve them all. apology
Nematology, University of
Here is a brief sketch to Florida, PO Box 110620
Florida, PO Box 110620,
give a basic pattern that is Gainesville, FL 32611.
found in North American i F 36
fod in North Aericn WWW: http://gnv.ifas.ufl.edu/
flashing fireflies. The
adult mating behavior of

Vol. 1, Number2 ~- Spring 1996

Fireflyer Companion

the Big Dipper Firefly, Photinus pyralis (L.) was first described by
Baron von Osten Sachen 130 years ago. It was studied in more
detail in the early 1900s by the father of American fireflyology,
Frank McDermott. A little before dusk females climb up on blades
of grass or herbs. Males take flight and emit a half-second flash
every 5 to 6 seconds. As they flash they make a swoop, a swooping
U or J in flight, then pause and hover for 2 seconds or so, then they
fly several feet in one big flying hump, drop down low and aim,
and swoop-flash again.
When a female sees the male's flash she waits for 2-3 seconds
and emits her half-second flash. Her flash is presented during the
period when the male is hovering, immediately following his flash
- that is why he has remained there hovering for more than two
seconds before flying on to deliver his next advertisement. He then
turns and flies a few feet towards where he saw her flash, and flashes
again. The pair continues a dialogue that lasts for a minute and
sometimes much longer. Eventually he lands near and walks to her,
still talking but sometimes whispering to her. Then, with possibly,

maybe, perhaps a chemical "by-your-leave," the male mounts and
transfers sperm to her. This takes her full cooperation, because if
she turns her tail down he will never find the right place to put the
sperm in.
The mating behavior just described generally applies for flash-
ing fireflies, the lightningbug fireflies. There are two other major
communication systems found in fireflies in North America. In
glowworm fireflies usually only the females have lights. They live
in underground burrows but come to their doorway above ground
to show their glowing light and attract a mate. Then they retire
underground to lay their eggs and they eventually die there. Be-
cause there are only a few species of glowworm fireflies, and be-
cause males of most of them do not have lights, they are seldom
seen. Adults of some firefly species have no lights, and they use
chemical signals (pheromones) for sexual signaling. These dark
fireflies apparently fly exclusively in the daytime.
Quiet and mysterious trails, (ft)

Henry David Thoreau and the "Fireflies"

Henry David Thoreau author of the American liter-ary
classic, Walden, or Life in the Woods (1853) -was a
competent naturalist, especially a very good botanist. But,
for various reasons, when he tried his hand at coleoptera, despite all
his efforts, he had little or no success at identifying the two batches
of luminescent worms that his friend Marston Watson, a very suc-
cessful Plymouth, Massachusetts, horticulturist, had twice depos-
ited to his care.
The first batch from Watson awaited Thoreau when he returned
to Concord and Walden Pond on 8 August 1857 from a twenty-day
sojourn in the Maine woods. On the very day Thoreau set out from
Concord for Maine, Watson had shipped him six "fireflies" that he
had found in the hills above Plymouth. They had been found in the
grass under the wild cherry trees, where it is very dry, Watson told
Thoreau in a note that accompanied the worms. But when Thoreau
got back to Concord on 8 August, only two of the worms still had
all their luciferin firepower. The other four were definitely worse
for the wait.
In his note, Watson had declared these fireflies to be very scarce.
Nonetheless, he wanted to know the species. He wanted Thoreau to
find out what they were, and Thoreau sought to do so. He gave the
two hardy worms careful goings-over by night and by day and care-
fully entered his observations in his journal (10:3-5). By night, one
of them had two bright dots near together on the head and two more
bright dots at the other extremity, wider apart than the first. The
firefly was composed of twelve segments or overlapping scales di-
vided by nine transverse lines of light, with a bright dot on each
side opposite the transverse lines. The bright dots glowed with a
greenish light.
By light of day, the smaller worm measured seven-eighths of an
inch long, one-sixth of an inch wide, and about one-twelfth of an
inch thick, with a head nearly one-twentieth of an inch wide, and
with a tail wider than the head. They have six light-brown legs,
Thoreau noted, within a quarter inch of the forward extremity. The
smaller worm had six short antennae-like projections from the head,
the two outer on each side the longest, the two inner very short. The
worms were a pale brownish-yellow or buff. The head was dark
brown; the antennae were chestnut and white or whitish on the sides
and beneath.

What kind are these? Thoreau asked in his journal. But Thoreau
would never know that the fireflies he had so carefully described
were doubtless or at least most likely Phengodes plumosa larvae or
larviform females, a species of the Phengodinae sub-family of the
beetle family Phengodidae. As early as 1790, Guillaume Antoine
Oliver described and pictured the Phengodes plumosa adult female;
but Thoreau's may be the first description, so far as we know, in
English and the first recorded instance of the Phengodes plumosa
larviform female having been found in Massachusetts. In fact, Walter
Wittmer in his discussion of the "Genus Phengodes in the United
States (Coleoptera: Phengodidae)" in a 1975 number of The Co-
leopterist Bulletin does not indicate that any Phengodes plumosa
Oliver worms, so far as he could discover, were found in Massachu-
setts before 1894. Thoreau described the worms forty-seven years
Nonetheless, despite Thoreau's meticulous examination of his
worms, in the fall of 1857 he was not able to determine what he
had. He went to his own library but without success. He complained
in a letter to Watson that Kirby and Spence's An Introduction to
Entomology (London, 1856), John Knapp's TheJournal of a Natu-
ralist (London, 1829), and James Rennie's three companion vol-
umes Insect Architecture, Insect Miscellanies, and Insect Trans-
formation all three published in London in 1830-31 contained
no minute, scientific descriptions. But if Kirby and Spence, Knapp,
and Rennie had contained detailed scientific descriptions, Thoreau
should have been aware that they would have been of little or no
help. All of these works have an Old World (English) orientation
and were not likely to be a means of providing the identification
and classification that Thoreau sought to determine.
However, while Thoreau was pondering his firefly problem, the
Boston Daily Evening Traveller on 12 August 1857 carried an un-
titled front page account of two fireflies exhibited on 2 July by Dr.
Silas Durkee, a Boston physician, at a meeting of the Boston Soci-
ety of Natural History. Thoreau was struck with the similarity be-
tween his worms and what Durkee said of his. Could Durkee's batch
and Thoreau's be the same species? Possibly, Thoreau thought. But
two things bothered Thoreau. One was Durkee's claim that his worms
often glowed with a light equally diffused throughout the entire
length of the worm. The other was Durkee's claim that his worms

Vol. 1, Number2 Spring 1996

Fireflyer Companion

were the so-called common English glowworm firefly, Lampyris
noctiluca the firefly the English literary writers most often wrote
about. Thoreau was convinced that Durkee's worms were not
Lampyris noctiluca. Durkee quoted from Kirby and Spence to back
up his claim that his were L. noctiluca. But Thoreau no doubt read
Kirby and Spence more carefully than Durkee had; and Thoreau no
doubt noticed that Kirby and Spence had noted specifically that
authors who have noticed the luminous parts of the common fe-
male glowworms have usually contented themselves with stating
that the light issues from the last ventral segment of the abdomen
(p. 539). Durkee claimed that his worms diffusely glowed equally
throughout. Kirby and Spence indicated that L. noctiluca did not
glow in such a fashion. Thoreau went along with Kirby and Spence,
and Thoreau was right. Lampyris noctiluca was an Old World beetle;
and to this day, there is no documented record of even an accidental
arrival of L. noctiluca in the United States in ballast or otherwise.
Thoreau was convinced that his worms were of a species distinct
from L. noctiluca, though he would never know just what species
he had.
Unsuccessful as Thoreau was in identifying the first batch,
Marston Watson nevertheless sent a second batch of worms that he
found in Lincoln, Massachusetts, on 15 September 18 5 7. They
were, Thoreau noted in his journal (10:33-34), deep brown crea-
tures. They averaged about five-eighths of an inch long, with six
brown legs within about one-fourth of an inch of the forward ex-
tremity. The worms, he observed, were composed of twelve scale-
like segments, including the head, which, at will, is drawn under
the foremost scale. When he touched one of the worms, it stretched
and showed its light for a moment, only under the last segment. The
worm's first segment was broadly conical, much the largest. The

other segments were very narrow in proportion to their breadth, and
successively narrower, slightly recurved at tip and bristle pointed.
These little worms, Thoreau especially noticed, had light organs
only on the apical. stemites of the abdomen. Had not Kirby and
Spence said that this was a characteristic of the Lampyris noctiluca?
So Thoreau jumped to the conclusion that the worms indeed were
L. noctiluca this time.
Of course they were not could not have been. In fact, Thoreau's
journal description was a very accurate portrait of a larva of a spe-
cies of a Photuris firefly (subfamily Photurinae of the family Lampy-
ridae). The larva Thoreau described in detail was one of several
species, which, in Thoreau's day and well into this century, were
lumped under the name Photuris pennsylvanica. Although there
were several taxonomic studies dealing with Photuris in Thoreau's
time, there is no evidence that he was acquainted with them or had
access to them. Yet he needed more light and different light from
what was available to him in Kirby and Spence, Knapp, and Rennie
with their lack of minute, scientific description and their Old World
orientation. It is too bad that Thoreau, in his day, did not have some-
thing similar to Ross H. Arnett's The Beetles of the United States (A
Manualfor Identification) [Ann Arbor: The American Entomologi-
cal Institute, 1968] to enable him to correctly identify the Photuris
females and the Phengodes plumosa worms that Marston Watson
sent him.
F. B. Dedmond (Boone, NC
The Firefly Capital of America)

Reference: The Journal ofHenry D. Thoreau, ed. Bradford Torrey
and Francis H. Allen (14 vols; Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.,

Notes From A Firefly Sadist
J.E. Lloyd, in response to my request for some material on fire-
flies, sent me a couple of pounds of it. I'd barely digested the open-
ing ounces when I remembered something gruesome from my child-
hood. I used to squish the rear ends of fireflies in hope of harvest-
ing for my own use a stash of their luminescent paste.
With that memory returned a flood of images dating from be-
tween the ages of three and ten. Only one was patently untrue: I
couldn't have outfitted a cicada with a harness, and walked it along
the lawn as on a leash. More smacking of the truth was the memory
of poking sticks into cow patties to expose the grubs. I recalled
inserting any item that resembled a cocoon into a wooden match
box, and waiting to see what would emerge. Some were moths.
Others were spiders. One was a wasp. Certainly I fed crickets on
bread and milk; when they died, they turned belly up in their make-
shift tin-can cages. Green katydids faded when killed by chloro-
form; caterpillars rotted. Grasshopper "tobacco juice" did not make
a good ink. The ones with red legs kicked so hard they kicked them
off. Ants make a hissing or popping sound when burnt with a match.
Decapitated horse flies walked headless.
These were cruel and revolting memories to adult sensibilities,
but they were suffused with glee. I discerned in them not the slight-
est tinge of moral difference between the image of rescuing a sil-
verfish from drowning in the bathtub (by drying it on a bed of folded
toilet paper) and that of tearing heads off flies in attempt to acquire
their emerald eyes. Eyes, juice, chirp, kick, glow, and even the re-
covering twitch of antennae on a near-drowned silverfish are phe-
nomena of great interest to children, and if moral judgement is per-
tinent at all, it is to be found in the intimacy with other creatures to

which such experiments are prelude.
I didn't become the scientist that an intensity of such interests
presaged in several of my children, but neither did I become some-
one who idly sprays to kill. I became an interested participant in
the systems by which my former victims are supported, and which
they in turn support. I think I learned something.
Firefly luminescence, I can tell you, doesn't even last 'til bed-
time. But the realization that it fades because it dies, that only the
living body of the firefly itself can keep it glowing, lights the adult
mind as vividly as those viscous smears so transiently lit my fin-
gernails fifty years ago. Of all creatures, insects are the most abun-
dant and the most available to children, the most various and en-
chanting, and the most correctly scaled in that they fit into small
hands and boxes, and the most desirably alien in that they do not
scream or bleed.
Of all insects, fireflies are the best. They are the best because
parents must let their children stay up past sunset to indulge their
joy; because the beetles speak a common language of flashes in the
night; because they make mayonnaise jars into bedtime lanterns;
because they are easy to catch.
And because boluxing as they may be to Dr. Lloyd and fellow
systematists whose childhood chasing now can be weighed by the
academic pound fireflies all look pretty much alike. It's hard to
answer butterfly questions: Is it nymph or satyr, comma or ques-
tion mark? It's easy to answer sparkles in the night:
Yes, my dear, they are fireflies. S. Stein, July 14, 1994

Sara Stein is the author of gardening books but recently turned
her attention, writing skill, and botanical knowledge to conser-
vation/restoration in her book Noah Garden.

Vol. 1, Number2 ~- Spring 1996

Fireflyer Companion

Answers to Trivial Flashlets

1. What State in the U.S. has more firefly species than any other?
Ans.: Georgia, with about 56, though recently Florida has appar-
ently matched this number. But, what is a species?
2. What city has a firefly festival every year, and has been desig-
nated the firefly capitol of the U.S.? Ans.: Boone, North Carolina,
with a queen, art, and good food, so I am told.
3. What continent has no fireflies at all? Ans.: Antarctica.
4. What city built a monument to honor the boll weevil? Ans.:
Enterprise, Alabama.
5. What town has a 3-ft high statue of a mosquito in the square by
the flagpole, and a mosquito festival and queen? Ans.: Effie, Min-
nesota, away up north.
6. What is the largest firefly in the world and where does it oc-
cur? Ans.: To the best of my knowledge it is probably one of the
tropical species in the genus Cratomorphus, that lives (lived?) in
the forests of Brazil. Length?, 1.5 inches or more. Cratomorphus is
in the tribe Cratomorphini, with our Pyractomena species.
7. Are any firefly species cave-dwellers? Ans.: Herbert S. Bar-
ber, the Great-Uncle of firefly biosystematics noted the possibility
of cave-living species in Jamaica. In New Zealand there is a
cave-dwelling fungus gnat (Diptera, Mycetophilidae) that is lumi-
nous, and snares prey in sticky webs hanging from the cave ceiling.

Firefly Lifehistory

Across (Down cont'd)
1. midthoracic prefix
3. prey for Pyractomena 18. not a firefly climate
5. notum ofa segment 20. steady emission of light
8. tarsal sole 22. snail supressor used by fireflies
10. Australia slang (abbr.)
11. firefly
13. transition stage 1 2
14. mouthpart fingers
17. firefly flightwing segment
19. first lifestage g
21. single species (abbr.)
23. three (prefix) 11
24. feature of larval firefly mandibles
25. protective bleeding I1
27. amaica
29. English nickname for mating
31. location of Photinus larvae
1. plot of firefly locations
2. Photuris egg receptacle 19 0
3. Pyractomena prey
4. light 1 2
6. cap on cop
7. vertebrate nerve sensitive to firefly poison
9. mating life stage
10. sexlife onset
11. predaceous juveniles 8
12. yellow-light time
14. prefix meaning tail
15. elytral texture of fireflies and kin 1
16. marsh herb for some Pyractomena pupation

26. earthworms, snails, and dead insects
28. flash-signal detector
29. in an ecosystem, fireflies are a tiny one
30. first thoracic segment (prefix)

Vol. 1, Number2 E- Spring 1996

Answers to last Crossword

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Fireflyer Companion

Giant Glowworm Beetles

(A Taxonomic Survey of Lanterns and their Use)

(continued from Companion 1)

We will look into explanations for the phengodid peculiarity of
subterranean light after introducing our North American giant glow-
worm fauna. The most commonly collected species belong to the
widespread genus Phengodes and the western/southwestern genus
Zarhipis. Euryopa is a less known member of the same tribe, the
phengodini. The obscure ranks of the tribe Mastinocerini consist of
seldom seen and little known genera such as Cenophengus,
Paraptorthodius, Distremocephalus and Mastinocerus. Due to the
variety of forms within populations, the number of North American
species is open to debate. In Zarhipis, there are at least three spe-
cies. Z. integripennis is the most widely distributed species, being
found in western Washington and Oregon, throughout California to
the southern half of Arizona and Baja Mexico. In Arizona it is re-
stricted to mountains and appears to favor somewhat moister re-
gions than Z. truncaticeps, which is a desert dweller, found in Ari-
zona, California and New Mexico, and possibly southwestern Texas.
Z. tiemanni is most abundant in the China Lake district of Califor-
nia, but has been collected in Nevada and Arizona as well.
Among Phengodes, P. mexicana is known from Arizona, New
Mexico and Durango. P. arizonensis, inflata andfenestrata are like-
wise western and southwestern species. P.fucipes inhabits both sides
of the Mississippi River. R. plumosa lives in the east and Midwest,
from Ontario to Georgia and New York to Nebraska. P.
nigromaculata is a southern native. Larvae are a pale cream and
brown color like those of R. plumosa. The geographic range of R.
laticollis overlaps those of nigromaculata and plumosa, but laticollis
is a much larger insect. The larva is black with orange blotches.
As far as anyone knows all glowworms are specialized hunters
of millipedes. There is a 19th century record of a Texan
Distremocephalus (= Mastinocerus) larva subsisting on small snails,
but since mollusks are a typical prey of firefly larvae, this may have
been a mistaken identification. The detailed observations of the late
Darwin Tiemann on Z. integrepennis are similar to what I have seen
of millipede stalking and killing by Phengodes laticollis and
nigromaculata and suggest a long and close evolutionary relation-
ship. A larva "races" alongside a millipede much larger than itself,
mounts its back, and then coils around it. It stretches full length,
and reaching the vulnerable neck articulation, severs the main nerve.
Both Zarhipis and Phengodes will drag their bulky trophy under-
ground, where they remove the head. A larva then pushes its own
head into the wound and eats its way into the body cavity, some-
times entirely disappearing into the hollowed-out "shell." It can take
days for a glowworm to complete its meal.
All stages of the phengodid life cycle bear lights. Embryos can
be seen glowing inside the egg and the larvae and larviform fe-
males sport multiple light organs, the pattern varying somewhat
among species. In Zarhipis and Phengodes there are points of light
on the sides of the second through twelfth body segments and stripes
of light shine between the segments. One species of Phengodes,
whose identity is not yet confirmed, has a double row of lights down
its belly. Mastinocerus opaculas has two very large lights on the
head with much smaller and dimmer organs glowing along the ab-
domen. Pupae are also luminous and while the light pattern is larva-
like, its intensity is greater. North American males are generally not

well lit. I have seen P. laticollis suffused with a greenish glow that
gradually dims and expires over the insect's brief life. Zarhipis males
have a feeble luminescence that requires allowing the eyes to be-
come dark-adapted before it can be seen. Cenophengus ciceroi, from
Arizona saguaro country, has faint green spots on the tip of the
abdomen that glow continuously. However, an early description of
a male Distremocephalus texanus with conspicuous lights in the
head and tail sounds more prepossessing.
The value of luminescence to a beetle larva is a mystery. It is
particularly puzzling when the larva lives and glows underground.
A number of reasons for carrying lights have been proposed, but
the first one to consider is aposematism" or "warning coloration."
The great 19th century naturalists, particularly H. W. Bates, pointed
out that some insects were distasteful to birds and other predators
and that poisonous species often "advertise" their unpalatability with
bright warning colors. The familiar Monarch butterfly contains car-
diac glycodide heart poisons and its bright orange and black wings
stick in the memory as well as in the craw of a bird that eats one -
and later vomits it up. A few such trials will cause a bird to avoid
Monarchs and butterflies that look like Monarchs. In addition to
orange, red (as in lady bird beetles) and yellow (as in wasps) are
used to advertise nauseous secretions and venoms, the same colors
found in eye-catching traffic signals. The brighter and more obvi-
ous an animal is the earlier a predator will take note and the less
likely it is to complete an attack that would have a bad effect on
both participants, In some cases, then, it pays to be noticed.
A light in the dark is very noticeable. If this obviousness could
be coupled to evidence of a potent defense, then warning colora-
tion could be a plausible explanation for luminescence in
phengodids. Unfortunately, the rarity of phengodids makes it diffi-
cult to experimentally test the idea. However, there is indirect evi-
dence of defensive chemicals. When handled, P. laticollis secretes
copious amounts of yellow fluid that quickly spreads over the en-
tire insect. Once I put one in a cage with a large centipede that it
attacked but did not eat, though the predator immediately afterwards
ate a large mealworm. When roughly handled, Z. integripennis se-
cretes a clear amber fluid from U-shaped pores on abdominal seg-
ments 2-9. Phrixothrix, a Latin American genus, discharges an irri-
tating reddish oily substance from the anus when disturbed. It will
turn the end of its body towards its attacker and swing it from side
to side while ejecting its anal fluid. A collector bitten on the hand
by a Phrixothrix larva noticed a brown substance on the wound and
the surrounding skin remained inflamed for several days. The Old
World tropic genus Rhagophthalmus has a caustic odor. All of this
at least suggests a chemical defense that might be advertised by
phengodid glows. A bit of circumstantial evidence is that the lights
of many glowworms brighten or light up when the insect is dis-
turbed. They may be intensifying their warning as danger approaches
-just as a rattlesnake may increase the frequency of its buzzes.
Even if phengodids pack a potent chemical punch, could a warn-
ing signal that can't be sent through the surrounding soil be of any
use? Well, yes it could, if it were the first thing a burrowing preda-
tor saw as it broke in upon its prey. To insure being noticed an
underground light display should be spread over the surface of the
insect. Phengodids tend to have numerous light organs dispersed
over their bodies. Phengodes and Zarhipis species have already been
described. Among tropical genera there are some spectacular varia-
tions. Besides 11 pairs of thoracic and abdominal lights,
Rhagophthalmus has large firefly-like taillights, as does Dioptoma
adamsi. Diplocladon hasselti bears a line of lights down the middle
of its back as well as blue-green lights on the sides of every body
segment except the head and tip of the tail. Phrixothrix has rose-red

Vol. 1, Number2 ~- Spring 1996

Fireflyer Companion

headlights and yellow-green lights from the middle of the thorax to
the ninth abdominal segment. The light arrangement is similar in
Stenophrixothrix, headlights plus lateral spots on the last 8 abdomi-
nal segments, though their lights are yellow-green in color through-
out. Ceratophengus is much like Stenophrixothrix, but some
Mastinocerus possess headlights and a row of 9 lights down the
middle of their back. In an undescribed and colorful Brazilian spe-
cies, the headlights are orange and the body lights yellow.
Ceratophengus males are reported to have a pair of lights on their
head and another pair near the tip of their tail, while Dictenum males
bear greenish-yellow light organs on each body segment. In sum,
Phengodids are well lit, all over.
Besides being spread out, a subterranean signaling system should
be on a lot of the time. There may be little warning of an unseen
predator's attack. It would be better to signal continuously so as not
to be literally in the j aws of death before giving your luminous warn-
ing. Many Phengodids spend most or all of their lives illuminated.
Of course, all of this argument about warning lights and chemi-
cal warfare is educated guesswork. The naturalists who will invest
the energy and time to watch phengodids and design experiments
to discover why glowworms glow may not as yet have turned over
their first log or lifted their first spade of soil. There is much work
that could be done by the patient amateur. But, before leaving the
always-agreeable land of "maybe," there is one more luminous land-
mark to visit the Phrixothrix species. Latin America's wonderful
"railroad worms" have two colors of light, some of which are set in
unusual locations. Lights on the heads of beetle larvae are rare,
occurring only in a handful ofphengodid genera. Red-colored lights
are very rare. Only Phrixothrix, the mysterious "Astraptor," found
once on a Guatemalan streambank, and a few as yet undescribed
Brazilian species have red glows. However, in all the cases where
there are both headlights and red lights, the headlights are red! When
two peculiar things occur together it is tempting to suspect that they
are related. In the world revealed by the invertebrate eye the color
red has one unusual feature; it isn't there. Most arthropods cannot
see red light. But what if a predatory species could both emit and
see by a light that its prey could not sense? Then it would stalk
victims illuminated by invisible beams and ignorant of their dan-
ger. Astraptor's light shines in a direction consistent with this view.
Its collector noted that its ruby light was not easily seen from above
and was best observed reflecting from objects in front of it. If red
lights are killing lights in the Phengodidae, then they might have a
parallel in the red photophores carried by the deep-sea fish
Pachystomias behind its eyes. Since nothing is simple, least of all
bioluminescent animals, it should be noted that Dr. Chabora of the
University of Sao Paulo has recently discovered a new glowworm
in the and savannas of Brazil. Unlike Phrixothrix, which has a red
light in the head and yellowish-green lights along its body, this new
species has red lights all over! It does not seem likely that abdomi-
nal lights are used for self-illumination, but then the Phengodidae
are an unlikely bunch.
Light and love entwine in some luminous organisms. Fireflies
are very well known examples of this; however, the role of lumi-
nescence in phengodid mating is not always clear. Some males, like
those of Diptoma adamsi with their scattering of 26 emerald green
lights, become brilliantly lit when sexually excited. Both male and
female Phrixothrix tiemanni luminance while coupling in burrows.
A luminous organ on the abdomen of the Stenophengus male is
backed by a white reflector like that found in some fireflies. Such a
specialization would seem to be an adaptation to increase the effi-
ciency (range/cost) of a broadcast signal. As discussed earlier, our
North American males are less photo-endowed. They usually glow

weakly and only for a short time. It seems they are less likely than
their tropical relatives to be broadcasting sexual messages. But it is
important to remember that only a few of our native species have
been seen mating and those only rarely, so no one really knows
what sort of fireworks may take place under the right conditions.
Female phengodids have the same compliment of light organs as
the larvae, but females are often more brightly luminous. Lights
could supplement chemical sexual signals females emit to guide
potential mates. Female glows might be particularly important in
genera such as Dioptoma, in which males have large eyes and much-
reduced antennae. In others, such as our native Zarhipis adult fe-
males, lights probably continue to function for the same reason that
they shine in the larvae... whatever that may be! Males have small
eyes and mating occurs in daylight.
The following are papers someone with an interest in phengodids
can refer to for More detailed information. Notice as you read how
little is known and how nearly every careful observation will be of
interest to your fellow naturalists. Just this year I have found new
light organs on one of our most common species and finally dis-
covered the millipede prey of another. (John Siviniski, USDA
REFERENCES: Linsdale, D.D. 1964. A revision of the genus
Zarhipis LeConte (Coleoptera: Phengodidae) Wasmann J. Biol.
22:225-260. Lloyd, J.E. 1979. Sexual selection in luminescent
beetles. in: M.S. Blum and N.A. Blum (eds.) Sexual Selection and
Mate Competition in Insects. Academic Press, NY Pages 293-342.
Sivinski, J. 1981. The nature and possible functions of lumines-
cence in Coleoptera larvae. Coleopterists Bull. 35:167-179. Teimann,
D.L. 1967. Observations on the natural history of the western banded
glowworm Zarhipis integripennis (LeCont) (Coleoptera:
Phengodidae). Proceedings Calif. Acad. Science. 35:235-264.
Teimann, D. L. 1970. Nature's toy train, the railroad worm. Na-
tional Geographic 138:56-57. Wittmer, W. 1975. The genus
Phengodes in the United States. (Coleoptera:Phengodidae).
Coleopterist's Bull. 29:232-250.

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Vol. 1, Number2 E- Spring 1996

Fireflyer Companion

"Where can I find information on raising fireflies"
Endorphan Park FL

Dear Karen,
I have been asked this question many times and I can only answer
that there is little information available and there have been no real
successes reported for North American fireflies. In the few cases known
to me where fireflies were reared from egg to adult, the successful gradu-
ate students tended their charges almost daily and had a very low suc-
cess rate. Larvae die sooner or later though their cages are kept clean,
unused food (snails and cut-up earthworms) and dead individuals re-
moved. The causes of death seem to be many, including infections,
starvation in the presence of apparently suitable food, and even stran-
gulation when bitten and numbed snails "wake up" and flex, greatly
extending the necks of feeding fireflies. In Japan a highly successful
rearing program was developed and apparently brought their two major
species back from near extinction. Their fireflies are aquatic, and ap-
parently in a "hydroponic" system it is easier to provide the essential
requirements. This is not a project that any wise graduate student would
take on for a degree. Whatever financial motivation there once might
have been is now gone, with the development of gene transfer technol-
ogy and alternative production methods for the light-emission chemi-
cals (see Oleksa essay). (fd)

"There is a population of fireflies at a nearby hot spring, at an elevation
of 8000'. Could you send any ID info to me..."
Villa Grove, CO

Dear Caren,
There are not many flashing species to be found as far west as Villa
Grove, but there are some daytime (use pheromones) and glowworm
(females burrow, males unlit) species. As a guess I would suggest Pyrac-
tomena dispersa Green. This is a marsh and wet pasture species, whose
larvae specialize on snails. Adults are generally dark brown to black
except the pronotur, which has a black midline (with keel) and a rosy
color on each side. Males flash 5-6 rapid pulses (rate about 3-5 per
second in each flash pattern, with 2-4 sec between patterns, tempera-
ture dependent. See if you can get a specimen. Put it in 70 percent
isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) and send it to me.

Dear Caren,
Thanks for sending the specimen. The genus is Photuris, and it be-
longs to the pennsylvanica complex, but whether it is the same as the
ones I have seen in Nebraska or the Dakotas I can't say until I have seen
it flashing in the field. It certainly must represent one of the most west-
ern populations reported. (Wd)

"Our fireflies are back! I wrote to you last year about their disap-
pearance I missed them. They returned about two weeks ago (i.e. 15
There are hundreds of them as many as ever. I can't put a reason to
their return any more than I could to their absence. Nothing is different
- no building or lack of it, no spraying or lack. All that was different
was that we had a very severe winter (in Mayville where the fireflies
are). The snow didn't melt from Dec. to April my blueberry bushes
were badly damaged. It's the first winter in 30 years that we couldn't
drive in.
This was followed by a wet May, a very hot dry (95') early June and
now a very rainy spell ......
Tonawanda NY

"Some time ago a friend and I were commenting on the fact that
there are fewer lightningbugs now than when we were children. Being
originally from Jamaica, he told me their word for lightningbug is
peeney-walley. Since then I have written a children's story and a poem
using that term.... I though perhaps you would like to read it."


Goodbye, Mr. Peeney-Walley.
Where did you go
with your incandescence
and luminous glow?
Did we capture too many
and put them in jars?
Or did you find it too hard
to compete with the stars?
You bring back the memories
of sweet childhood days;
of swinging and tea parties
and playing croquet.
Of chasing the chickens
and riding bareback,
of milking the cows
and sliding down haystacks.
But childhood is gone, alas and alack.
So please, Mr. Peeney-Walley, won't you come back?

W. J. W.
Austin TX

Dear WJ.W.,
Thanks for your note and the poem. I heard th term peeney-walley
used for luminescent clicl beetles (Elateridae, Pyrophorus) when I was
in Ja maica in 1967, and fireflies (Lampyridae) were called blinkies.
As I recall this was in the vicinity of Wor. thy Park, not far from
Spanishtown, I believe. Per. haps there are regional differences(?).

Vol. 1, Number2 ~- Spring 1996

L tars t&o Dc

Letters t<-thezie/ irfl VoC/

Fireflyer Companion

Firefly Profiles #2

the Angled Candle Firefly

The only North American firefly whose geographic distribu-
tion can rival that of the Big Dipper Firefly, Photinuspyralis (L.)
(see Companion #1:9), is the Angled Candle Firefly, Pyractom-
ena angulata (Say). Its known range extends from the eastern
edges of the high plains, except for a couple of questionable out-
liers and a western extension along the Missouri River and its
tributaries in South Dakota, south to the Gulf, east to the Atlantic
Ocean, and north into Canada some undetermined distance (see
map below).
Thomas Say, the father of American zoology, we will pro-
file him in a future number probably chose the epithet angu-
lata because of the angular outline of the pronotum (see habitus

.. .... ....

mena angulata (Say).

drawing). Although Say's specimen was lost, eaten by dennestid
beetles along with most of his collection 150 years ago, a con-
temporary, F.E. or J.F. Melsheimer had probably compared it with
a specimen in the Melsheimer collection which is still in exist-
ence. Thus, we can have some degree of confidence, though not
complete certainty, what the firefly was that Say actually named.
Note that Say's name is placed in parentheses in the formal name;
this is because Say classified this species in the genus Lampyris
and it was subsequently placed in a different genus (now Pyrac-

The Caribbean (W.I.). A colleague recently passed a printout
along to me from the (ugh) Internet, which noted the story (legend?)
of luminescent click beetles in Cuba being mistaken for Spaniards
with torches, that sent the British under Cavendish packing to Ja-
maica, where they worked their colonial wonders instead. The mes-
sage asked whether the account, which he saw in H. Evan's Life On
A Little Known Planet was "more than just a tale." Seems to me that
this is a good literature project for a future issue of the Fireflyer
Companion. Have we a volunteer to look into the matter?

The habitus illustration (a carbon dust drawing by Laura Line)
shows the diagnostic angled form, wide pale margins on the
elytra. (wing covers), lateral dark vittae (stripes) on the prono-
tum, and a median triangular vitta on the pronotum. Note the
costae (slight ridges) on the
elytra and the median
carinula (little keel) on the
pronotum. This is a beauti-
ful firefly, perhaps our most
beautiful, with black, yellow,
and red coloration. After all
of this, its luminescence is
equally remarkable.
I call Py. angulata a
"candle" firefly because its
flash pattern is of an amber
color, and composed of 8-12
rapid and connected pulses
(see p. 7), thus appearing like
a flickering candle. In an-
other descriptive phrase, I
could say that its signal is a ragged, yellow-orange flicker. This
pattern is repeated each 2 to 4 seconds depending upon the
temperature. The Angled Candle Firefly appears early in the
spring over low wet ground, up into shrubs, and even around
boughs at the tops of trees.
Thoughyou may sometimes
see dozens at once over
grassland by a marsh, usu- Lo
ally you will see only one
or two males at a time, and
even into mid-summer, as
they meander silently
around high foliage but they Lanterns (LO) of male (left) and
never set it afire, female Pyractomena fireflies.
If you answer males with
a half-second flash from below, they will often disappear for a
few minutes and then flicker from foliage below where you saw
them flying. They sometimes fall (land) in your hair or on your
shoulder if you are standing under them when you answer. Ap-
parently they drop and remain dark to avoid attack by Photuris
fireflies following a responding flash. The lanterns of female
Pyractomena fireflies are distinctive, being divided into four
parts, and positioned at the covers of two plates ("sternites")
under the abdomen. (fd)

Gainesville FL. On the 25th of April '96 the third "annual" fire-
fly lecture and field expedition was held as one of the Outdoor
Adventures sponsored in the Community Education Program. Par-
ticipants first heard a slide lecture on firefly natural history and
identification, then set off in a caravan to choice sites near the air-
port for field observation and experimentation. This year the flash
patterns of 7 firefly species were seen, a count that was down from
lastyear's total of 9 species, according to those with working memo-
ries. The class, entitledA HistoricalEcology ofFireflies, was orga-
nized by Dr. Bruce Fergusen, the veterinarian of Micanopy, Florida,
and conducted by fd.

Vol. 1, Number2 E- Spring 1996

Fireflyer Companion

Occurrence of Aggressive Mimicry In A
Brazilian Bicellonycha Firefly
(Lampyridae; Photurinae)
by Vadim Viviani, Sao Paulo, Brazil

The occurrence of aggressive minticry in North American Photuris
fireflies is well documented (Lloyd 1984). With the exception of its
probable occurrence in a Colombian photurine of an undescribed
genus (Lloyd unpublished obs.), it has not been observed elsewhere
in the family. I observed it in Bicellonycha omaticollis (Blanchard),
a common firefly of marshy areas in the vicinity of Campinas, in
southeastern Brazil (Viviani 1988). This is the first record of occur-
rence of aggressive mimicry in the genus Bicellonycha, and it may
be expected to occur in other South American Photurinae.
Fireflies of B. omaticollis commonly occur in open marshy areas
with Bicellonycha lividipennis (Motschulski), which typically out-
numbers the former. Occasionally individuals can be found in adja-
cent forests. Adults are active from October to February. Males emit
single yellowgreen flashes. Females are found on vegetation and
occasionally are seen flying and flickering. Females were observed
to flash-respond to the flash patterns of flying lividipennis males
(n=2). The males flew toward and landed near the females. The
females remained on their leaves with anterior legs raised. Subse-
quently one of these females ate the attracted male. I do not know
how similar the response flashes used by these females were to the
mating signal of lividipermis females, since the latter response is
I made other observations relative to the occurrence of this preda-
tory tactic in omaticollis (see Lloyd 1984 for a hierarchy of evi-
dence levels): females ate adults of lividipennis, Pyrogaster sp.,
Photinus sp., Aspisoma sp., when confined in a cage with them;
and females were found eating males of lividipennis in the field
References: Lloyd, J. E. 1984. Occurrence of aggressive mimicry
in fireflies. Florida Entomol. 67(3):368-376. Viviani, V.R. 1988.
Levantamento e Ecologisa das Especies de Larnpirideos do
Municipio de Campinas. Bioikos. 2(2):40-42.

A Field of Phengodids
by Steve Wing, Gainesville, Florida

You don't have to be a professional entomologist to make impor-
tant discoveries, and this is especially true in the study of biolumi-
nescent insects. Take, for example, a recent "find" for the family
Phengodidae. Larvae and the larviform females of this family are
spectacularly bioluminescent (e.g., see Tiemann 1970). Males with
their elaborate antennae fly at night in search of females (Tiemarm
1967, Lloyd 1979), and males occasionally turn up in light traps.
Females and larvae apparently spend most of their lives underground
(Atkinson 1887), and are only rarely encountered by nocturnal en-
tomologists (Smith 1900). Members of the genus Phengodes are so
rare that E.N. Harvey (1952) saw "only four living luminous speci-
mens in 25 years." Even though these insects are easy to spot in the
dark and generations of naturalists have sought them, new discov-
eries may wait to be found literally in your own back yard.
On the night of 16 August 1995, Brian and Jason Russell were
scouting potential deer hunting sites near the southern outskirts of
Waldo, Florida. Walking through a grassy field about 11:00 PM
they were amazed to see numerous glowing worm-like creatures,
perhaps two centimeters long, maybe a little shorter, on the grass.
They collected about thirty five and kept them in a masonjar. (This,

sadly, was probably a major fraction of the population and would
never be able to reproduce.) The next day their father/uncle, Doug
Russell, wanted to find out more about these creatures and he called
the University of Florida, where he was eventually connected with
the editor of the Companion. Lloyd listened to the story and, lack-
ing the time to give to the project, called me. I telephoned Doug
and arranged to go out to see the creatures that evening.
Jason, Brian, and Wesley, the boy whose house/yard the field
borders, took my wife Susan and me through Wesley's yard to the
field. At 8:48, about 20 minutes after sunset, the first glowing in-
sect appeared. We walked around the field and found them in sev-
eral locations. The boys seemed to think they were particularly at-
tracted to a small herbaceous plant with round leaves, so I collected
some specimens. I also took two of the insects the boys had col-
lected and collected one more myself. It was evident that these were
phengodid larvae or females.
Phengodids in such numbers had been reported only once previ-
ously. I had found 90 of them in one hour at a site that I visited
nightly near the regional airport near Gainesville. In my years of
visits to the sight, I previously had found only one. But on this
occasion of note, the field was flooded after heavy rains, and I specu-
lated that the flooding had forced the phengodids above ground
(Wing 1984a). After the field dried out, once again there were no
phengodids to be seen. But there was no flooding in Wesley's field,
and no other reason was evident that might have driven the insects
from the soil. The field was not used for agriculture, was not sprayed,
and had no livestock.
I began visiting the field nightly at first, and then weekly. I marked
the locations of the insects as they emerged from the soil glowing,
which occurred around 9:00 pm each evening. They would remain
out and glowing for hours, perhaps all night, though I didn't remain
that long. Closer observation showed that they were not feeding.
By marking locations, it became clear that the insects emerged at
the same locations nightly, evening after evening, but eventually
failed to return.
These observations are consistent with the behavior of flightless
female fireflies (e.g., Wing 1984b). However, it was not clear
whether these were females or larvae. A dissection was inconclu-
sive, as was examination of the specimens with a microscope. I
observed individuals carefully, expecting that if they were females
males would eventually arrive. In addition, John Sivinski lent me
some traps, which basically were screen domes over the insects so
that the glow remained visible, but they had a ring of sticky gel to
capture any male that might land. The traps caught crickets and
other insects, but no male phengodids. I followed the appearances
for over a month, tracking a total of 35 or so insects. The numbers
of new insects appearing tapered off to zero as winter approached.
This year, I will be visiting the field again to see if the phengodids
reappear and continue observations, and perhaps I can determine
whether they are adult females.
REFERENCES: Atkinson, G.E. 1887. Observations on the fe-
male form of Phengodes laticollis Hom. Am. Nat. 21:853-856.
Harvey, E.X. 1952. Bioluminescence. Academic, New York. 649
pp. Lloyd, J.E. 1979. Sexual selection in luminescent beetles. Pages
293-342. in: M. Blum and A. Blum, eds. Sexual selection and re-
productive competition in insects, Academic, New York. Smith, J.B.
1900. The insects of New Jersey. MacCrellish and Quigley, Tren-
ton. NJ. Tiemann, D.L. 1967. Observations on the natural history
of the western banded glowworm Zarhipis integripennis (Lee). Proc.
Cal. Acad. Sci. 35(12):235-264. Tiemann, D.L. 1970. R.F. Sisson,
photographer, Nature's toy train, the railroad worm. Nat. Geog. Mag.
138:56-67. Wing, S.R. 1984. Female monogamy and male compe-
tition in Photinus collustrans (Coleoptera : Lampyridae). Psyche

Vol. 1, Number2 ~- Spring 1996

Fireflyer Companion

Essays by Little-Known American Authors
Fireflies: Beauty and Beyond
by James Oleksa
Nearly everyone has seen, at one time or another in their lifetime, the
brilliant flashing of fireflies dancing through the night air. This capti-
vating phenomenon can be very beautiful. At the same time, it can also
be quite intriguing. After taking in the magnificent light display put on
by fireflies, one often wonders, "how do these insects generate light?"
This question has also been pondered by scientists for many years.
Through years of study and experimentation, the process of biolumi-
nescence, by which fireflies and other organisms produce chemical light,
has been uncovered. Along with gaining an understanding of biolu-
minescence, scientists are also learning how to harness its power for a
vast number of practical uses.
The process of bioluminescence is not as complex as one would think.
It only involves three substances, which react in the presence of oxygen
to produce chemical light. These three substances are: a molecule called
luciferin, an enzyme called luciferase, and the energy molecule com-
mon to all living organisms known as adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
Fireflies glow when the enzyme luciferase reacts with the molecule
luciferin to create a very short-lived high energy compound. This reac-
tion takes place only in the presence of oxygen and ATP. The high-
energy compound created immediately returns to its lower energy state,
causing the emission of a photon of light. This whole process takes
place in the specialized light organ of the firefly, all within a fraction of
a second (Weiss). In other bioluminescent organisms, such as plankton
and certain bacteria, the process is very similar except for the lumines-
cent substances involved. While the molecules are still called luciferases
and luciferins, they have slight differences depending on the organism
involved, and are not interchangeable between bioluminescent species.
For example, luciferase from Photobacterium fischeri reacts only in
the presence of the molecules FMNH2 and NADH, rather than ATP as
in fireflies (Lewis 17).
The fact that firefly luciferin reacts only in the presence ofATP is the
primary reason that so much research is being conducted on it. All liv-
ing cells require ATP to survive, and, consequently, where life is present
ATP must be present. Therefore, bioluminescence can and does serve
as an accurate test for the presence of living organisms (Lewis 17).
There are many practical uses for such testing. For instance, NASA is
considering using it to detect life on other planets. Soil on Mars, for
example, could be mixed with luciferin and luciferase and scanned for
the presence of bioluminescence with sensitive light detection instru-
ments, which would indicate the presence of life (Weiss). Coca Cola
presently uses bioluminescent technology to test beverages for bacte-
rial contamination before they are bottled (Lewis 18). Similar tech-
niques are being put in place to detect contamination in milk, meat,
juices, etc. (Internet 1). Using bioluminescence is far more efficient
than the traditional tests for food safety. Instead of waiting days for the
growth of bacteria in culture dishes, bioluminescence gives results within
minutes. Furthermore, the number of bacteria present in any one food
sample can easily be determined because the amount of light emitted in
testing is equal to the number of bacteria present (Weiss).
Biolurinescence also has many practical uses in the medical field.
Firefly luciferase is used to assess whether tumor cells respond to spe-
cific drugs before testing the drugs on cancer patients. Tumor cells are
cultured, exposed to different combinations of drugs, and then the num-
ber of cells present is estimated through the use of bioluminescence.
Declining luminescence in the culture indicates that the cells are being
killed. This relatively fast procedure enables doctors to quickly evalu-
ate appropriate chemotherapies for rare and/or drug resistant cancers
(Lewis 18). Along those same lines, bioluminescence is being used in
fighting drug-resistant strains of bacteria, such as tuberculosis. Because
TB; bacteria grow extremely slowly, it can often take weeks to deter-
mine whether a drug being administered to a patient is working to kill
the bacteria. Using bioluminescence, researchers can determine within
a couple of days whether the bacteria are surviving by looking for faint
glows of light in the culture (Weiss). Additionally, bioluminescent tests
are being developed to quickly test for bacterial infections in wounds

and tissues (Ugarova).
The technology of firefly bioluminescence is also being applied in
the field of ecology. Tests for the bacterial contamination of drinking
water are currently being put to use (Ugarova). Also, bioluminescent
marine organisms are currently being studied as indicators of water
pollution levels in the oceans. Quite simply, a decline in light output by
such organisms in samples of marine water may be a simple screen for
the presence of toxic substances in the water (Weiss).
Bioluminescent technology is not just limited to the detection of bac-
teria and pollution, but is quite prominent in the field of molecular
biology as well. Bioluminescence first entered the realm of molecular
biology when the gene for firefly luciferase was inserted into a bacterial
plasmid which then infected tobacco leaf cell cultures, thus transmit-
ting the gene to the plant cells. From this cell culture, a tobacco plant
which glowed when exposed to luciferin was grown (Bames 353). A
variety of researchers now use the firefly luciferase gene by linking it to
various genes of interest in other organisms. They are then able to fol-
low gene expression by detecting bioluminescence in different cells
and tissues at different stages of development in these organisms (Lewis
1 8). Biologists are using this technology to study biological rhythms in
plants, for instance. The gene for luciferase is inserted into plant DNA
to track plant genes as they get turned on and off during the day. Water
containing luciferin is fed to the plants, then they are monitored closely
in a dark room. When the leaves begin to glow, the luciferase gene is
known to be turned on and, thus, the plant is undergoing a certain phase
in its biological rhythm. This research could be used to study the spe-
cific genes that alter a plant's biological clock to possibly speed up
growth and increase crop yields (Weiss).
Although it seems like a perfect process for many applications, the
use of bioluminescence is not without its problems. The most commer-
cially viable source for the luciferase and luciferin used in
bioluminescent technology are field-collected fireflies themselves. Many
labs obtain their luciferin and luciferase from thousands of freeze-dried
firefly abdomens shipped in from a company on the east coast of the
United States (Lewis 18). With the interest in bioluminescent research
continually increasing, it is putting a major strain on diminishing fire-
fly populations. This pressure, in combination with the already shrink-
ing population of fireflies due to the loss of natural areas, including
suburban woods, and the increased used of insecticides, is concerning
ecologists (Weiss). Fortunately, scientists are beginning to find alter-
nate sources and ways of obtaining the chemicals they need. Using much
of the same technology applied in the molecular applications of biolu-
minescence, luciferase and luciferin are obtained from DNA cloned
and reproduced inE. coli bacteria. This is known as recombinant DNA
technology (Lewis 18). Additionally, scientists are finding ways to
chemically synthesize their own luminescent molecules using the in-
formation obtained from research with the real things (Weiss).
Fireflies provide much more than just a pretty display of nature's
wonders. By stud, ii_ I..! cill% are able to generate their chemical
light, scientists have unearthed a whole new area of technology and
practical applications revolving around bioluminescence. By harness-
ing the power of bioluminescence, a wide variety of new techniques in
the fields of medicine, molecular biology, ecology, and food safety have
been developed. The list of new discoveries will continue to grow as
research continues in this fresh and vast field of bioluminescence.
REFERENCES: Barnes, S., and Curtis, H. 1989. Biology, 5th ed. Worth
Publishers Inc., New York. Lewis, Rick. March 7, 1994. Refinements
in Bioluminescence Assays. The Scientist. pp. 17-18. Ugarova, Natalya.
1996. Bioluminescence: Principles and Applications. Moscow State
University. (World Wide Web). Weiss, Rick. August 29, 1994. Research-
ers Gaze into the Insect Light and Gain Answers. The Washington Post.
These essays were originally written as term papers toward fulfill-
ment of the "Gordon Rule" requirement for students in the Honors I
program 6000 words of essays for certain courses, including AGG-
2931, Biology and Natural History with I ,, rl/, ,
Oleksa is a sophomore in the University Honors program, will
probably major in a biological science, and took BNHFF in the
spring of 1996.

Vol. 1, Number2 E- Spring 1996

Fireflyer Companion

Creationism and Evolution
by Michelle Thresher

The debate between evolutionists and creationists has frequently been
characterized as a "war." The image of a war between religion and sci-
ence developed in the late 19th century, but has flourished recently in
the current debate (Moore 12). "Through constant repetition in histori-
cal and philosophical exposition of every kind, from pulpit, platform,
and printed page, the idea of science and religion at 'war' has become
an integral part of Western intellectual culture" (Moore 20).
It is somewhat odd that things have gotten to this point. This state of
"war" this debate sparks between religion and science is fairly strange,
because religion and science generally do not attempt to answer the
same questions. Science can explain, describe, discuss "how" things
happen. Religion attempts to find meaning in life to try to answer
the big "why" questions: "Why is there something rather than noth-
ing?" "Why do I exist?" Leo Tolstoy once said, "Science is meaning-
less because it gives no answer to the question, the only question im-
portant for us: "What shall we do and how shall we live?" (Taylor 288).
Tolstoy's statement shows that science and religion are not by nature at
war with one another because they attempt to answer different ques-
Regardless of this, religion and science are often seen as "opposites,"
and this is especially true in the creation vs. evolution debate in the
United States. George M. Marsden, in his essay A Case <. ilc Excluded
Middle: Creation Versus Evolution in America, writes, "In a widely
held view that seems to be gaining in popularity, biological evolution is
regarded as an opposite of divine creation and hence incompatible with
traditional Christian belief." Marsden points out that the creation-sci-
ence movement only accepts one view of creation based on a literal
reading of the creation accounts in Genesis. According to this view,
"the six days of creation are literal twenty-four-hour days so that the
Earth cannot be more than some thousands of years old. Evolution of
any species, accordingly, is absolutely precluded" (Marsden 132).
Many insist on this dichotomy between creation and evolution, and
neglect what Marsden calls the "excluded middle" those who do not
deny the theory of evolution, but who don't think that it necessarily
rules out the existence of a divine creator. The "excluded middle" sees
God as behind the process of creation, and sees evolution as the pro-
cess by which God carries out the divine plan. An example of this argu-
ment follows:
"God controls all natural processes through his providential care. The
questions raised by biological evolution are therefore not in principle
different from those suggested by other natural phenomena, such as
photosynthesis. A fully naturalistic account of the process does not pre-
clude belief that God planned or controlled it." (Marsden 133).
Though evolution and religion are not by nature opposites, opposi-
tion to evolution has become for many a test of faith (Marsden 134).
This stems from the fundamentalist view of the inerrancy of the Bible,
and of the need to interpret it literally. They believe that "because the
Bible is God's Word, it must be accurate in matters of science and his-
tory as well as in doctrine" (Marsden 136). From this view, taking Gen-
esis as true and reading it literally and not symbolically, standing with
the biblical account of creation means standing against the theory of
The anti-evolutionists were most successful at times when they could
argue convincingly that believing in the biblical view of creation, rather
than evolution, was "crucial to the future of civilization" (Marsdan 141).
An example is just after World War I when anti-evolutionists claimed
that Darwinism had caused the war "by substituting the law of the jungle
for the teachings of Christ" (Numbers). Because of this, the evolution
vs. creation has a strange marriage with moral issues. Jerry Falwell said

of Ronald Reagan, "Reagan is for Adam and Eve and against the theory
of evolution. He's for the family and against sex education. He's against
homosexuality and abortion and feminism and all that welfare. Above
all, he's for America being No. 1 again, having the strongest military
since creation" (Czamecki 58).
Creationism is especially prevalent in the South. Marsden traces the
roots of this to the Civil War, when the South justified their separation
from the Northern churches by claiming the Northern churches were
"infected by a liberal spirit" (Marsden 143). The Northern churches,
rather than interpreting the Bible literally, said the liberating message
of the New Testament disallows slavery. The Southern churches inter-
preted the Bible literally and said that slavery was allowed. "The Bible
condemned slavery only if one forsook the letter of the text for the
alleged spirit" (Marsden 143). Thus, many Southerners come from a
tradition that took the Bible literally.
While I have shown how religion contributes to the polarization on
the issue of creation vs. evolution, the scientific community's attitude
toward the controversy also leads to greater division. Evolution is talked
about in the same terms as religion as something one "believes in."
As in many other churches, when one from the scientific community
dissents from these views, it is sometimes called "heresy," and the com-
munity pushes for excommunication of the unbeliever (Eastland 34).
For instance, free-lance writer Forrest Mims claims that in 1991 he
was refused a job writing an "Amateur Scientist" column for ~S. r ,ir.
American because of his religious views (Eastland 32). During the in-
terview process for the job, Mims mentioned that as well as writing
articles for Modem Photography, Physics Today, Popular Mechanics,
and Popular Electronics, he had also written articles for Christian pub-
lications on bicycling and photography. This prompted the editor to ask
Mims' views on the theory of evolution, and he said that he did not
accept it. He was not offered the job, though Mims maintains that the
editors had told him he would get thejob before they knew of his views
on the theory of evolution (Eastland 32). It's war, then, from both sides
of the debate. This is damaging to both, and serves to further divide the
two camps. The inability to see the middle ground further polarizes the
two groups, which leads to a lack of dialogue and a lack of understand-
REFERENCES: Moore, James. 1079. PostDominion Connoversies.
Cambridge University Press. Taylor, Charles Alan. 1992. OfAudience,
Expertise, and Authority: The Evolving Creationism Debate. Quarterly
Journal of Speech. 277-295. Marsden, George. A Case of the Excluded
Middle. in: Bellah, ed. Uncivil Religion. Czamecki, Mark. January 19,
1981. The Revival of the creationist crusade. Maclean's. Eastland, Terry.
February, 1991. Scientific American on Trial. The American Spectator

Thresher is a graduating senior in the Honors Program, with a
major in Religion, and took BNHFF in the spring of 1996.

What is it?
It Went Somewhere Else

On silver feet,
I bear it coming.
Miles away it pounds closer.
A whisper of wind,
promises of things to come.
Far away flashing footsteps illuminate
faint still lifes
fainter still,
as it walks away
without seeing me

(Chris Tipping)

Vol. 1, Number2 Spring 1996

Fireflyer Companion

W.S. Blatchley: Tramp Naturalist
by Michelle Derrow
1. "We salute thee, 0 America, new-born! Henceforth, within thy sity. He then worked his way through four years of college by "janitoring,
bounds, let there be no east, no west no north, no south, but collecting delinquent taxes, gathering all the plants used by the botany
only one grand country under one gloriousflag. A Citizen's classes," etc. (Blatchleyana), while continuing to sell book and maps in
Creed, 1918 the summer. He majored in science and took only one term of entomol-
2. ... anda new and more loyal love for the oldHoosier State will ogy. He graduated in 1887 with the degree of "A.B." and a graduating
be engendered in your souls. A Recall, 1916 thesis on The Flora ofMonroe County, Indiana (Blatchleyana).
3. "To her to whom Iowe my three most priceless possessions: life, From 1887 to 1894 Blatchley served as head of the department of
hope, ambition: these three, which have made me what I am, I science in the Terre Haute Wiley School, teaching chemistry, botany,
owe to her my mother Boulder Reveries, 1906 zoology, and physiology, as well as physical geography and physics. In
the summer of 1891, he became one of five members of the J.T. Scovell
Willis Stanley Blatchley was an American first, a Hoosier second, a Expedition to determine the height (18,314 feet) and natural history
mama's boy third, and a naturalist from conception. He was author, features of Volcano Orizaba, Old Mexico.
teacher, historian, taxonomist, father, and, throughout nearly all of his In 1891, Blatchley returned to Indiana University, this time to earn
life, awestruck Indiana schoolboy. Variety was the prize in the Cracker his A.M. degree on a thesis titled The 1 ii,, l, ih, ofIndiana. Then, in
Jack box for Blatchley. Nature was a sweet confection on its own, but November 1894, Blatchley was elected to the post of state geologist, a
variety in nature that was where the euphoria of discovery was to be position he would hold for the next 16 years. It was during these years
found. that Blatchley published his most well-known work, The Coleoptera of
Indeed, Blatchley knew that euphoria well. By the time he died, he Indiana, as well as two other widely read writings, A Nature Wooing
had described more than 370 new species and varieties of Coleoptera, (1899) and Boulder Reveries (1906).
approximately 66 new species of Heteroptera, and 29 new species of The Coleoptera oflndiana is just what its title indicates: a thorough,
Orthoptera. complete (at the time) guide to the identification and classification of
Summertime romping was as much a part of Blatchley's study of the Indiana beetles. What's surprising, perhaps, is the care Blatchley took
natural world as detailed taxonomy or published writings. A man who to ensure the accessibility of the book to the general public. In the in-
was equally comfortable catching catfish at his beloved Raccoon Creek production to The Coleoptera oflndiana, Blatchley addresses an audi-
(Woodland Idyls, 1912) as he was writing essays titled What is Great- ence ranging from the mischievous young country boy to the aggra-
ness? (1922), W.S. Blatchley was "Happiest those days in which I have vated Midwestern farmer, speaking to all with the encouraging voice of
wandered far and wide through field and woodland, adding here and a patient teacher. Blatchley himself emphasizes this idea when he states,
there some specimen before unseen, noting now and again some life "I have prepared the present paper, not for specialists in Coleoptera,
habits, some food-plant, or place of retreat, before unobserved" (The but for beginners, a few of whom, I trust may in time become enough
Coleoptera oflndiana). interested to devote their lives to the everpleasing, health-giving and
Willis Stanley Blatchley was born Oct. 6,1859, in North Madison, inspiring study of Nature" (The Coleoptera oflndiana).
Conn., the son of Hiram and Sarah Blatchley. It was a time when ento- In 1899, on a doctor's recommendation, Blatchley made his first so-
mology was something young children studied without being asked to journ to Florida, where he headquartered in Ormond and compiled his
- and probably without realizing it. The great tragedies and comedies Gleanings from Nature from previous writings. He also took a new set
of the natural world were played out by actors as tiny as rolledup pill of notes in Florida, which would later become A Nature Wooing.
bugs under a log or a colony of ants disrupted by a probing stick. Chil- Blatchley's infatuation with the state is evident; A Nature Wooing in-
dren such as Willis Stanley were both entertained and educated by the cludes such declarations as "I still delight to chase the winged butterfly
natural world around them, and for Blatchley, that world was the great o'er field and pasture; draw the seine through ripple and shallow for
Hoosier state, Indiana. The Blatchley family arrived in Indiana one year silvery minnow and rainbow darter climb hill and wade pond for
after Willis was born, settling first in the farmland of Hendricks County, partridge berry or water lily..." The language of A Nature Wooing is
and moving one year later to the town of Groveland in Putnam County. infectious. Blatchley's enthusiasm seeps through his words and trans-
There, Willis Stanley attended a local country school, where his father ports the reader to a marshy play land of dragonflies and cattails, de-
was a teacher, for three years. signed to evoke the naturalist in everyone.
In 1869, the Blatchley family moved again, this time to a small farm Blatchley returned to Florida for the second time in 1911, spending
1 1/4 miles east of Bainbridge, Putnam County. 10-year-old Willis at- most of the winter collecting insects in Ormond, Sanford, St. Peters-
tended school in Bainbridge until the age of 17, assisting with his father's burg, Sarasota, Ft. Myers, Key West and Little River. He also made his
market gardening business during the summers of those years. first trip to Lake Okeechobee, which "at that time [had] but three houses
Blatchley himself noted that at the time of his last year in "high on the shores of the lake" (Blatchleyana). It was also during this time
school," there were "no grades and no graduating exercises," an essen- that Blatchley began work on Woodland Idylls, which would again re-
tially informal method of schooling, flect his puckish joy and constant reverie of the natural world around
In 1879, the 20-year-old Blatchley received his first teaching job as a him.
country school teacher in Cloverdale, Ind., at a salary of $1.50 per day. In 1913, Blatchley took a trip to Dunedin, Fla., and became so en-
In the summer of 1880, young Blatchley traveled the country on foot, raptured with the area that he proceeded to purchase "300 feet of un-
selling maps and taking orders for enlarging pictures. In 1882, he mar- cleared bay front" (Blatchliana) upon which he built a two-story winter
ried Clara Fordice, and soon after acquired the position of principal of house. Four years later, Blatchley paid his first visit to Gainesville, where
the Putnamville town school. on Feb. 5, 1917, he gave an address before the Florida Entomological
In September 1883, Blatchley moved his wife and newborn son, Society on Bug Hunting as a Pastime. In fact, Blatchley's contribu-
Raymond, to Bloomington, Ind., to begin studying at Indiana Univer- tions to the study and knowledge of Floridian entomology range from

Vol. 1, Number2 L-- Spring 1996 Fireflyer Companion 25

essays on Water Beetles of Florida (1919) to Some Apparently New
Heteropterafimm Florida (1924) to The Scarabaeidae of Florida (1927),
as well as various other topics.
In his essay titled What is Greatness? (1922), Blatchley ,quotes the
Bible's Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would that they should do
unto you." In fact, what W.S. Blatchley did for others was exactly what
he sought for himself: the discovery of something new and different,
but nonetheless as much a part of the universe as the sky under which it
is viewed; the careful uncovering of the various interrelationships be-
tween all the elements of the universe in this "grand and perfect whole"
(A Nature '. ....., 1899), and above all else, a savory delight in the
chirping of a cricket on an early Sunday morning.
Willis Stanley Blatchley died on May 28, 1940 (Current Biography,
1940), at the age of 80, one man out of "ten thousand men [who] ...
looks up into the sky and wonders why it is there looks out into

space and ponders o'er the porch lights of other sun-ruled systems -
treads the earth and thinks of her as a moving sphere" (Woodland Idylls,
REFERENCES: Blatchley, W.S., ed. 1930. Blatchliana: A ( ...... .-.
ofhisLife: The F, ., i.. -'-. i i. ., /fNew Genera and Species Described
by him, etc., etc. Indianapolis: The Nature Publishing Company.
Blatchley, W.S. 1910. Coleoptera oflndiana. Indianapolis: Indiana De-
partment of Geology and Natural Resources. Block, Maxine. 1940.
Current Biography 1940. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company.

Derrow is beginning her senior year in the Honors Program,
with a major in Journalism. She took BNHFF in the spring of
1994, and in the summer of 1996 had an apprenticeship with a
major national news magazine.

On Luminosity in Fungi
by Joshua Even

Is there an evolutionary benefit of luminescence in fungi? Some
argue there is none. But there must be some reason why, after mil-
lions of years of evolutionary change, nature selected some fungi to
use their precious energy reserves for light emission. Does the pro-
duction of light attract animals (insects) that would be beneficial to
the survival and subsequent thriving of the fungus in question? Light
in otherwise dark surrounding must be noticed by the inhabitants of
the fungi's surroundings, and therefore must be instrumental in the
attraction or repulsion of those inhabitants. One cannot write the
phenomena of bioluminescence off as some haphazard mutation
without any evolutionary benefit. What exactly is that evolutionary
What about the animals that, when attracted to the light, would
do harm to the fungi? In an attempt to find reasonably sound an-
swers to these puzzling questions, a colleague (esteemed entomolo-
gist-to-be Joshua Trotter) and I carried out a series of experimental
scenarios. Using luminescent fungus models, we set out to find ex-
actly which insects would be attracted to the light.
To simulate a luminescent fungus, we used a "glow-stick" (for
lack of a better word) housed in an inverted test tube. A rubber
stopper pierced by a dissecting needle plugged the end of the test
tube to secure the "glow-stick" and form a support with which we
could secure the "fungus" into the earth. To catch the insect visitors
during the night, the test tubes were sheathed with a condom (for
protection!) and slathered with a very, very sticky substance called
"Tangle-trap." Obviously, this last step was saved for the field.
The first location we visited was the Med Garden at the Univer-
sity of Florida. We arrived at approximately 7:30 pm and set out
three traps. We hoped to sample the different ecozones represented
at the Med Garden (namely the "open field," "marsh vegetation,"
and "damp woods") in order to catch the representative species at
each site. Given the nature of the fungus we were interested in (grow-
ing in damp, wooded areas with a great deal of dead and decaying
vegetation) we naturally expected that the traps set out at some lo-
cations were going to be more productive than traps set out at oth-
ers. We had little hope for the "open field" trap, but expected great
discoveries from the "damp woods" pseudo-fungus.
The following afternoon the only insects on the "open field" trap
were several ants (evidently from a colony nearby, if not directly
underneath, the trap). Many of them were still alive and crawling
up and down the dissecting needle and under the condom. I initially

suspected that the ants found the trap recently, during the day, since
there were very few individuals stuck to the outside of the condom
while many still ventured up the trap from the ground. Reading in
an entomology text, however, I found a bit of information that sug-
gests the ants were not just exploring for the sake of exploration;
they might have been searching for something. The diet of the ants
(family Formicidae) is varied, including animal matter (both dead
and alive), plants, sap, nectar, other animals' excretions, and (ding,
ding, ding!) fungi. Why would a fungus, the apparent object of a
colony of ants' desire for nourishment, advertise itself as free for
the taking? Bah! Another question. But at least we found the first
piece of evidence (not very convincing, I agree) that leads to an
The evidence of over-night insect visitation in the "marsh veg-
etation" area was slightly better than the "open field" trap, but still
not on par with the grand collection of insects I was imagining.
Upon first inspection, we saw one largish lepidopteran and several
minute insect specks drowned in the clear, thick goo. Back at the
lab, when trying to gently pry the insects from the condom, I real-
ized we spread the Tangle-trap a little too thick. Each specimen
(with the exception of the moth, which was too big) was positively
covered with the sticky Tangle-trap, and worse, the goo apparently
had a softening effect on the exoskeletons of the insects. With each
pull and pry, the frail bodies disintegrated to the point where posi-
tive identification under the microscope became almost impossible.
The wings of the moth (by far the easiest way to identify a family)
were obliterated, and the remaining insects were unrecognizable
save for a few features, including the heads and modified rear wings
(order Diptera, for sure). So what can be gleaned from this small
insight? Moths, like all Lepidoptera, have very specialized mouth
parts that are good for sucking and little else, so allraction to fungus
for dietary purposes does not make sense. Could the moth be at-
tracted to a potential place for her larvae to thrive? Again, the facts
do not hold up; Lepidoptera. larvae usually feed on the leaves of
plants or grasses. What's left? All I can think of is the fact that
moth's are (inherently?) attracted to light. The fungus thus attracts
the moth with the "hopes of inadvertently" picking up some of the
fungus' spores for later dispersal. This situation would be the most
advantageous adaptation of the fungus. It spends its energy glow-
ing so as to attract those insects that would spread its spores and
therefore facilitate the continuation of "the species."
Is it the same deal with the small Diptera as well? Possibly, but a
more probable situation concerns the larvae. Diptera larvae spend
their time feeding in decayed animal and plant matter, where, con-
sequently, fungi also grow. Is the glowing fungus a sign to female

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flies that there is a nice rotten spot for their young to grow up? If so,
it benefits the fungus, which absorb nourishment from the drop-
pings of larvae. Additionally, when the female flies land on the
fungus to lay eggs, they take fungal spores with them to their next
stop. If this is a viable situation, leading to the propagation of its
genes, the fungus has spent its ATP well.
The last trap was retrieved from the "damp woods" area of the
Med Garden. Again, we were initially unimpressed. Back at the
lab, after carefully attempting to remove the insects and cursing the
oozing goop that got attached to our skin, hair, clothes, and twee-
zers, we evaluated our findings. The largest insect was recogniz-
ably a cockroach, and keyed out to be of family Blaberidae. The
presence of a cockroach confused me; thinking back to all my prior
observations of them scuttling out of the way at the slightest illumi-
nation I could not imagine why these creatures would be attracted
to a glowing fungus. The only thing I could think of that explained
their presence is their omnivorous feeding habits and their affinity
for dark, damp places. Along with the roach, a tiny, yet strikingly
beautiful leafliopper (family Cicadellidae) was present, as well as a
small Diptera, family Cecidomyiidae. The presence of the leafhop-
per befuddled me as well; they are characteristically leaf eaters in
both adult and larval form, so the only remaining option is that the
glowing of the fungus attracts them so they can pick up a legfull of
spores for rapid transportation. As opposed to the roach and leaf-
hopper, who seemed somewhat out of place attached to a glowing
condom out in the middle of the woods, the remaining Diptera, a
gall gnat, seemed to have a good reason for being there. Gall gnats,
also called gall midges, are mostly plant feeding, but a few species
live in decaying organic matter or fungi and feed on aphids and
other small insects. The glowing fungus, then, must have a good
relationship with the gall gnat, and vice versa. Here is a possible
situation: The glowing of a particular fungus attracts (for whatever
reason) small insects and larvae. The nearby gall gnat is therefore
attracted to the glow because "it suspects" a potential meal, as well
a place to live, is available. The gall gnat moves in and preys upon
the small insects, returning to the fungus its excrement. When the
gall gnat decides to move on to bigger and better things, it takes
with it a small sample of fungal spores to deposit elsewhere and
start the cycle over. Everyone is happy (well, at least the fungus and
gall gnat are). Again, the fungus is sustained and its lineage
progresses, presumably because of its adaptive evolution of a night-
time glow.
So, as it stood, we had one half of our project completed, and
already we had some (not rock-solid) evidence supporting our ini-
tial notion as to why these certain fungi glow. On to part two.
We decided early on that we needed to split our traps between at
least two locations so as to get a wide variety of insect habitats. The
Med Garden was an easy choice. It was close, it had diversified
eco-niches, and at least one of those mini-ecosystems was of the
"damp woods" type. In the interest of time and convenience, we
decided that our other site would be the YMCA campgrounds where
our class would be camping out over one weekend. As it turned
out, the location was indeed convenient. Since we were going to
stay overnight, we could put out the traps just as the sunset and
retrieve them early the next morning. The land at the campground
was not as diversified as the Med Garden, it being solely a dry
wooded area with a few more leafy meadows near the horse's fenced-
in field. I set out the traps (six of them) along the path that led into
the woods and toward the lake. Admittedly, I was not as careful in
laying these traps as I was at the Med Garden. At the Med Garden,
where students typically stroll along the boardwalk, we had to make
sure the traps were out of sight. This time, though, I was certain
there wasn't going to be any unnecessary foot traffic through the

YMCA woods at night (we were the only ones in that particular
area), so the traps were not so inconspicuous. After a grand night of
s'mores and Mad Libs, my partner and I proceeded to recover our
At the next lab session, we again tackled the Tangle-trap (this
time it wasn't as bad; our wise professor gave us a can of easy-to-
apply-but-still-as-uncooperative aerosol goo) and struggled to iden-
tify the insects we had attracted. Again, the dissolving action of the
Tangle-trap left many of our specimens liquefied, but the YMCA
harvest had been quite bountiful. We had lured in two bright green
long-homed grasshoppers (family Tettigoniidae) on two separate
test tubes. These long-horns, like all grasshoppers, usually feed on
leaves and blades, but a few species may feed on other insects. Why
would he be attracted to the glowing fungus? The answer is clear if
this particular species did indeed feed on other, smaller insects (per-
haps like the minute Diptera we had observed from the Med Gar-
den), that were, in turn, attracted to the glowing fungus (for reasons
of nourishment or egg-laying). On the same test tubes, in fact, were
many very small insects that, had our trap been a legitimate fungus,
might have ended up as the long-hom's dinner.
A male black fly (or buffalo gnat), family Simuliidae, was recov-
ered. These small pests are quite ferocious; there is an instance cited
in the entomology text concerning a horde of black flies attacking
and killing livestock! These devilish creatures suck blood, carry
diseases (in Africa and Central America), and can cause blindness
by flying into one's eye! So what was a male doing attached to my
fungus-trap? An anomaly, for sure. He was not searching for food,
nor could he have been scoping out for a place to lay eggs. My only
explanation is that, like the moth, this black fly was attracted to the
light, and the fungi took advantage of that instinct. Hopefully for
the fungus it means that the black fly (or the moth, or the leafhop-
per) will stop by, possibly excrete some nourishment, and then fly
away with a few spores attached.
Along with the black fly, a yellow-and-black leafhopper was
found. Also, another small Homoptera, this time of family Derbidae
was picked from the gooey trap. This individual, a part of the su-
perfamily of planthoppers, the Fulgoroidea, is tropical, and almost
exclusively feeds on woody fungi. Therefore it would be advanta-
geous for these Derbidae to have developed an attraction to a faint
glow in the woods that could signal a patch of fungi. The fungi,
although sacrificing a bit of itself to the planthopper, benefits from
the fact that the insect will lead to the dispersal of spores, and will
leave a bit of feces to feed the fungus (this relationship carries over
to the ants from the Med Garden, as well).
The last insect of note was recognizably a click beetle, rust col-
ored and elongated, with two small spines extending off the back of
the pronotum. The adults of this famlily (Elateridae) are strictly
plant-eating [sic], so the little beetle was probably not looking for
food. However, it may have been looking for a place to lay eggs.
Larvae of the click beetles are omnivorous and many of them live
within rotting logs. Perhaps the fungal glow has become a signal to
click beetle mothers-to-be that there is a place to lay her eggs. While
thumbing through the entomology text I came across a very inter-
esting bit of information: some click beetles glow. These species
(natives of the southern states) have two posterior light organs on
the prothorax and one under the abdomen. If the click beetle we
trapped is one of these, then it explains another possible use for the
fungi's glow. Perhaps the airborne glowing click beetles mistake
the glowing fungus for a member of its own species. Does it ap-
proach it? I don't know much at all about the behavior of these
beetles, but I can assume (through knowledge of fireflies) that the
night time glow might have something to do with mating. If that is
the case, the glowing male would be attracted to the fungus, and

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Fireflyer Companion

through subsequent contact (the beetle landing on or brushing against
the fungus), the ftingus would have some of its spores dispersed.
Through all these complex (and hypothetical) relationships be-
tween insects and glowing fungi (which actually are scarcely repre-
sented in Florida), I think there is enough circumstantial evidence
to say that there is definitely a reason for the presence of biolumi-
nescence in some fungi, in some places in the world. Granted, the
experiment was not flawless: a control group of non-glowing sticky
traps in the same area as the glowing traps could have been used to
see which insects were actually attracted to the light and which hap-

hazardly flew into the Tangle-trap. But all in all, it demonstrated
that there could be several evolutionary "purposes" for this strange
fungal trait. No matter what the exact relationship, the ends to the
fungi's means are the same: continued survival of the genes for
REFERENCES: Field & Lab Handout 40, J.E. Lloyd, and refs.
Evan is a National Merit Scholar. a sophomore, has a double
major in the honors Program, including Entomology, and took
BNHFF in the spring of 1995.

Existentialism... and Fireflies?
by Andrew Aronsohn

The term existentialism was coined by Gabriel Marcel to
describe the philosophical ideas of Jean-Paul Sartre and
Simone de Beauvoir, and the ideas came about as a conse-
quence of the social, political, and cultural changes that were oc-
curring in France in the 1940's. Jean-Paul Sartre classified himself
as an existentialist and was one of it's most famous exponents, but
this form of philosophy went far beyond the ideas of just one man.
Authors such as Camus, Dostoevsky, and Kafka did not write as
existentialists, but are now thought to have taken an existential point
of view in their literature. Existential expression is not limited to
books, for some of the most popular means by which existential
thought are conveyed are movies, plays, paintings, and music. In
addition to art, existentialism has permeated the realm of religion
with philosophers such as Soren Kierkegaard, who demonstrated
the Christian perspective to existentialism in contrast to Sartre's
atheistic perspective. Existentialism, like almost all other forms of
philosophy, includes divergent interpretations according to differ-
ing opinions of philosophers. This essay will begin with a focus on
the existential ideas of Jean-Paul Sartre because his ideas represent
some of the most widely held views concerning existentialism, and
then will discuss some of the unifying themes and purposes of exis-
tentialism. Finally I will attempt to take existentialism out of the
minds of philosophers and place it where it can be viewed (and
criticized, and tuned?) a bit more easily in the summer night sky.
The life of Sartre in a nutshell... Jean-Paul Sartre was born in
1905 and was educated at the Ecole Normale Superiecture in Paris.
From 1934-1935, he spent a year teaching at the Institut Francais in
Berlin. After this, he resigned to devote himself to writing exclu-
sively. He was a member of the French army during World War II
and was a German prisoner of war. Sartre took complex philosophi-
cal ideas and made them more understandable in the forms of short
stories and novels. His most famous works concerning existential-
ism include Being and Nothingness (1943) and Existentialism Is a
Humanism (1946).
Existence precedes essence .... Although Sartre did not actu-
ally invent existentialism, he was responsible for one of the most
fundamental themes of existentialism "existence precedes essence."
To understand this enigmatic phrase, one must first understand the
essence of a manufactured object such as a paper knife. A paper
knife is made by someone who has a conception of it in his mind. In
order to produce a paper knife, the producer must know that he
must use a certain type of material in order to form an object with a
sharp edge that will be suitable for cutting, prior to his actually
doing anything. It is impossible to make something if you do not
know how to make it or what the object is to be used for. If the term
essence means the procedure by which something is made and the

purpose for which something is made, in the paper knife's case
essence precedes its existence.
When someone looks at a paper knife, he can tell exactly what
the useful purpose of the object is. The paper knife is only a repre-
sentative of the entire set of manufactured things, and thus, by the
same line of logic used with the paper knife, essence precedes ex-
istence with all manufactured things. The argument thickens a bit
when man is brought into the question. When considering the na-
ture of man, many would say that man is a product of a creator
named God. With the concept of God comes the idea that when
God creates man, He knows exactly what He is creating. As unflat-
tering to mankind as it sounds, these statements about God throw
humankind into the same category as the paper knife and other
manufactured goods.
In this view, each individual, just as the paper knife, is a realiza-
tion of the conception that God had before he created the individual.
Non-existential theist philosophers prior to Sartre supported this
idea by saying that mankind possesses the same essence conceived
by God, and it is this essence common to all men that precedes
concrete or historic existence. Sartre shook the philosophical world
up a bit when said that there is no God. This poses a problem be-
cause now mankind has no "creator" and, of course, (happily?),
we are separated from the paper knives. The absence of a creator
means that it is impossible for mankind to be created by something
with a preconceived notion of how we were to be made and any
purpose that we were supposed to fulfill. Human nature cannot be
defined in the same manner that a paper knife can be defined be-
cause, unlike a knife, the purpose of a human being was not com-
pletely thought out in advance. Man, unlike everything else, exists
first, then defines himself and his purpose. That is, his "existence
precedes his essence. Sartre's major point here is that a paper knife
exists for the purpose of cutting things; that is the reason knives are
made. Human beings exist first, and our purpose is determined by
what we make out of ourselves.
Comparing a man and a stone... In the previous argument, Sartre
proved a major theme of existentialism that man has the unique
ability to be able to make anything he wishes out of himself. Sartre
takes this argument further by stating that man also has a greater
dignity than an object such as a stone. At first glance this does not
seem like such a bold statement because stones are not often thought
of as very dignified characters, but, to understand this statement
one must be aware of Sartre's definition of dignity. Dignity, as Sartre
puts it, is something that consciously moves itself towards a future.
Man is conscious of moving towards the future whereas a stone
does not really know much of anything. Stemming from the idea of
dignity is the concept of the two different modes of being: "being-

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Fireflyer Companion

in-itself' and "being-for-itself." "Being-in-itself' means simply to
exist and "being-for-itself' means being conscious of existing.
Human beings possess both of these modes in that mankind is and
he is conscious of it. A stone is only "being-in-itself'. What sets
mankind apart and makes us possess both modes of being is that we
are consciously interactive with the future, unlike the stone. Since
man makes himself what he is and is consciously interacting with
the future, man is fully responsible for himself. This leads us to the
next major point of existentialism: for each and every action of a
particular man, it is that man and that man only who is responsible
for committing it.
Man is not only responsible for who's in the mirror... Existen-
tialism, according to Sartre, goes beyond the idea that man is re-
sponsible for himself, for it also holds that man is responsible for
all men. When man chooses to make himself a certain way, he is
not only making himself, but he is also setting an example for oth-
ers to follow in making themselves. The idea of a value is a subjec-
tive one, meaning that there is no absolute standard guide that tells
us correct decisions and correct values, so each individual is forced
to make value judgments of his own. If a value is truly good for an
individual, than it is by definition a good value for all. By adhering
to certain values, one is saying that it is good for himself and that is
also good for all. Every value chosen is to be seen as an example for
all others to see and consider. According to existentialism, in mak-
ing a decision one must realize the consequences of other people
acting in accordance to the same values that one picks for himself.
Sartre says that simply saying "others won't act the way I do" is a
form of self deception, and people that utilize this form of
self-deception will never be fully at ease with their conscience. Men
must make all decisions with a great deal of anguish, because with
each decision men are not only responsible for themselves but for
all of mankind.
The abandoned condition of humankind... Sartre along with
many other existentialists, were strict atheists. He was a believer in
Nietzsche's idea that "God is dead" and supported Heidegger's
theory that man's condition is one of abandonment. Sartre did not
mean abandonment in the physical sense of the word, but rather in
a psychological sense. Since we, according to Sartre, live in a God-
less world, there is absolutely no chance of humankind ever getting
any moral or ethical help from "upstairs." Existentialism brings forth
the idea that each individual is put on this earth with a lifetime of
decisions to make which he is completely responsible for, yet there
is no real authority to turn to when left to grapple with an especially
challenging decision.
A few words on determinism... In order to continue this discus-
sion of existentialism, another philosophical concept is needed -
namely the idea of determinism. Determinism equates man's life to
being on a track where it is impossible to swerve off, speed up, or
slow down. According to determinism, there is no such thing as
free will. Free will would mean one could get on and off the track,
or just stop, if one so desired. Determinism means every action that
an individual commits is caused by one thing or another, and noth-
ing happens for absolutely no reason. The only reason that some-
one picks one choice over another is because that choice has a more
compelling cause. A free action is only an illusion because even if
someone thinks that his or her action was completely free of cause,
there is in reality an underlying cause that provoked the action. But
if all of our actions are caused, as determinism states, then how can
we be responsible for any wrongdoing? All of our decisions are
"beyond our control," so in determinism we are not to be held re-
sponsible for anything. Who should accept responsibility is a major

point on which determinism is often attacked.
Prisoners of freedom... In Sartre's Nausea, we finally see the
relevance of the word "exist" in existentialism. The present is the
only thing that actually exists and what is not in the present does
not exist. The here and now is the only thing to be sure of and,
therefore, this is what really exists. Our world consists of things
that are as they appear to be, and if it were not for these things there
would be absolutely nothing. These few statements prove to be ex-
tremely powerful ones when supporting the doctrines of existen-
tialism. If one is to take these statements as the truth then one would
be forced to deny the existence of many abstract entities such as
God, a moral standard, and determinism. The "causes" that the logic
of determinism rely so heavily upon are not something that we can
always see or even be sure that they exist, so by the existential logic
they do not exist and neither does determinism. If there is no deter-
minism then man is free. This seems like a relief from the helpless
situation we find ourselves in when in the determinists' world, but,
unfortunately, the existential picture may put us in an even worse
According to Sartre, man not only is free but he is condemned to
be free. We are thrown into this world by no choice of our own,
then once we are conscious of ourselves we are forced to take full
responsibility for all of our actions. Free will may seem like a luxury
when compared to the helplessness of determinism, but when we
recognize the enormous burden of responsibility that lies within
every free-willed decision, free will no longer seems like such an
attractive idea. Kierkegaard spoke of a dizziness of freedom, and
other existentialists have labeled freedom as "appalling." It is truly
a scary thought when we think of ourselves as abandoned in this
complex world, so free that there is nothing pushing us from be-
hind, nothing leading our way, and no way to escape this situation.
Prisoner of freedom, after existentialism explains it, no longer seems
like an oxymoron.
Unifying themes of existentialism... Most of the ideas that have
been presented thus far have been heavily influenced by Jean-Paul
Sartre. His ideas do an excellent job in explaining the foundation of
ideas concerning existentialism, but what has yet to be discussed
are some unifying themes of existentialism and the purpose of exis-
tentialism itself. The following are three ideas upon which almost
all existentialists agree.
1. Acceptance of anguish and suffering as a condition of ex-
perience. This seems a little harsh, but according to the existential-
ists this is a so-called "fact of life." It was previously mentioned
that one must assume complete responsibility for himself and ev-
eryone else with every decision made. This burden of responsibility
is not possible without anguish, so every decision means anguish.
What about the experience of love? What could possibly be said
about anguish concerning love? Existentialism defines love not as
a state of happiness, but rather a concern for someone whose death
would result in an irreparable personal loss. There is nothing that
can exist without anguish and suffering.
2. Anguish is seen in different forms. When questioned about
anguish, most would say that they in fact do not experience anguish
and suffering with every decision. How do existentialists explain
the fact that I just decided to get a drink of water, yet I do not recall
any feelings of intense anguish or suffering while doing so? Their
answer to this is that anguish takes the form of many other com-
monplace negative feelings such as tedium, anxiety, apathy, and
fear. The source of these many times unexplained feelings, accord-
ing to existentialism, is a misunderstanding of anguish which is
necessary in life. One of the purposes of existentialism is to liberate

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Fireflyer Companion

mankind from these "unwholesome" manifestations of anguish and
realize these feelings for what they really are.
3. Existential values serve a purpose of intensifying conscious-
ness and give reason to engage total energy in life. Intensity is a
key word for existentialists. We are not on a path which we are
determined to stay on but one on which we are forced to make
choices that we must take responsibility for. Intensity of conscience
and energy is a requirement in order to deal with the anguish that
accompanies this.
Existentialism is by no means a positive philosophy but it does
have its points of attraction. This philosophy received such wide-
spread popularity because of its almost shocking refusal of faith in
the unknown and its glaring acceptance of concrete reality and free
will. Many are troubled by existentialism's constant references to
anguish and suffering, yet there are many who accept existentialism's
harsh responsibility with open arms. Whether or not one agrees with
the ideas of existentialism, it should be praised for its innovative
ideas and historical importance. As a neophyte philosophy student,
I find it refreshing to break out of the ancient thoughts of Greece
and Rome, if only for a little while, to study an idea that was com-
pletely conceived in this century.
The firefly the unsung existentialist? (ending #1)... It is
only appropriate to include our friend, the firefly, in our discussion
of existentialism. What better example of something taking full re-
sponsibility for their actions than the firefly? This may seem like an
odd statement at first, but at closer inspection it becomes obvious
that for the firefly, existence truly precedes essence. The firefly is
not by any means like the paper knife. Our bioluminescent friends
are not here to perform some mundane task like the knife, but rather
to lead a life filled with freedom and choice. A firefly, just like a
human being, exists first as a mere arthropod but he must make
himself into the firefly that he is. Our physical actions and speech
that reflect our choices can be equated with flight patterns, flash
colors, and flash patterns. The male firefly will notjust reproduce
just as the knife will cut, but rather he must take on the responsibil-
ity himself. On any given summer night' one can see existentialism
illuminate the night sky because the male firefly knows that he must
take on the responsibility, wholeheartedly, to signal the female him-
self. The male realizes his burden of responsibility and accepts it
with an intensity that would please any true existentialist. In addi-
tion, the male firefly exercises his free will every night when he
decides to signal the females to find a mate. Finally, the firefly is a
prisoner of freedom, just like us. They, like humans, are thrown
into the world and are forced to lead a life of freedom. Fireflies

accept this sentence of freedom with much more dignity, however,
because while the human existentialist complains about intense
anguish, the firefly just lights up the sky.
Some flashes of disapproval concerning existentialism. (end-
ing #2)... Our luciferase-bearing friend, the firefly, can be used to
accentuate some holes in the logic of existentialism. Fireflies are
living creatures just like human beings, yet when one analyses their
lives it does not seem as though they have the luxury (or curse, as
the case may be) of free will. Fireflies, along with most other mem-
bers of the animal kingdom serve as pillars that support the idea of
determinism. The causes of actions that existentialists say do not
always exist can be easily seen in the firefly. The male firefly flashes
as a result of a specific cause to find females. It is hard to imag-
ine that a firefly equipped with such a paltry nervous system is fly-
ing around pondering the notion of whether to light up or not to
light up. It is an even more difficult task to find anything that the
firefly does that is not directly caused by its program to survive and
reproduce. Fireflies do not make choices but rather act out what
needs to be done what they are programmed phylogentically to
do. If fireflies still seem too "free," then what about a sponge? The
sponge is a living creature, yet it does not seem to be making choices
concerning reproduction and feeding. At what point along the hier-
archy of complexity exhibited in the animal kingdom can one say
that these animals lead determined lives and these animals live lives
of free will? Once determinism is proved, the idea of free will and
existentialism seem to fall apart. Sometimes, in order to find the
answers to some of the "big" questions, one need not look through
piles of old dusty books, but rather look out into the summer night
REFERENCES: Feinberg, Joel. 1993. Reason and Responsibil-
ity: Readings in Some Basic Problems ofPhilosophy. Belmont, Cali-
fornia: Wadsworth Publishing. Greene, Marjorie. 1959. Introduc-
tion to Existentialism. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Harper, Ralph. 1948. Existentialism: A Theory ofMan. Cambridge:
Harvard University Press. Olson, Robert G. 1962. An Introduction
to Existentialism. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. Sarte, Jean-
Paul. 1947. Existentialism. New York: Philosophical Library,
Stumpf, Samuel E. 1979. Elements ofPhilosophy: An Introduction.
New York: McGraw-Hill.

Aronshohn was a freshman in the Honors Program major-
ing in Philosophy when he wrote this essay, and now is a sopho-
more majoring in organic chemistry. He took NHFF in the fall
of 1995.

Women's Role in the Study of Nature
by Stacey Hannah

Dear Firefly Doc, I would like to begin by explaining to you why
I am writing this letter. When you first told me I could write my
paper about women's work in nature, I admittedly was quite re-
lieved. Having already found a few books specifically on this topic,
I figured it would be easy enough to choose a few individuals, maybe
find a couple more sources, and compile information. However, as
I began to get further into my research and to think about what
exactly I would write, my own feelings about what I was learning
dominated my thoughts. Being, of course, a woman, or girl (a title I
am sometimes more secure with), who is interested in science and
has very general aspirations of making some sort of a career out of
it, what I read about these women naturally conjured up emotion. It
would have been a terribly difficult task for me to write an objec-

tive, strictly fact-filled paper. I am almost entirely confident that
you will appreciate this. Your willingness to let your students think
for themselves and your interest in what we discover thereafter is
evident to me in your unique way of teaching. I also figured, since
you write us, your students, so many letters, I could write one back
to you. Because so many times in our studies we are forced to "color
inside the lines," I've taken this opportunity to go a little on the
outside. My hope is that, through this, we both receive more enjoy-
ment out of the task.
Never fear; it is my first intention to state a few facts on the sub-
ject of women's role in the study of nature. As you can imagine, it
has always been greatly down-played, especially before the twenti-
eth century. As I read through source after source about woman

Vol. 1, Number2 Spring 1996

Fireflyer Companion

after woman, the seemingly off-handed remarks blatantly denying
any feminine involvement in the study of nature jumped out at me
from the pages. I thought I would share several of these statements
with you. First, Paul Quinnett, in his spoof called "Of Bugs and
Women," reflected on the fact that he had never met a female ento-
mologist and concluded that "all women have an inbred dislike of
insects" (Bonta 145). Obviously he never attended Honors Fi1. 1. .-
of Fireflies class. A second quote came from a leading Bureau of
Entomology man upon his learning of the appointment of Edith
Patch as teacher of entomology and agricultural English at the Uni-
versity of Maine. "A woman can't catch grasshoppers," he said
(Bonta 175). In his article "The Invisible Woman," Stephen Gould
spoke about women's involvement in botany. He stated that this
was acceptable because it followed the conception of the "perfect
lady," whereas other forms of natural study did not (Gould 14). His
rationale was that botany coincided with gardening, which was an
acceptable interest for women to have. A ruling of the Wisconsin
Supreme Court in 1875 actually placed a definition on the role of
women, stating that "the Law of Nature ... qualifies the female sex
for the bearing and nurturing of the children ... and for the custody
of the homes of the world..." (LaBastille 69). I guess this left no
room for women to study the nature that provided that law.
In a different context, a famous painting entitled Celia Thaxter in
Her Garden by Childe Hassam, through its portrayal of the typical
view of a woman in a garden, further supported the misconceptionn
of women in nature. While the painting did depict a woman in na-
ture, the garden that Thaxter stood in was not the hard-core wilder-
ness that so many women were involved in, but rather one more
part of her domesticated life (Norwood 104). Therefore, by stand-
ing in her garden, Thaxter was not progressing as some radical fe-
male, but, rather contradictorily, she was following in her typical
role as a housewife. In stating these facts, I am not trying to expose
some great historical injustice done to women. I realize and respect
the beauty of how history has shaped and changed women's roles
in every aspect of society. And even in today's world I would hesi-
tate to call myself an active feminist. I merely find this information
incredibly striking. To think that women were considered so insig-
nificant in a field where they offered so much fascinates me. It fur-
thers my appreciation for the beauty of how time so dramatically
changes the fundamental ways in which we think.
As is the case with most generalizations, the ones that no female
is comfortable in the wilderness, that girls don't know how to camp,
that women hate bugs, etc. are simply not true. Much factual evi-
dence exists to support this. Countless women have made countless
achievements ever since the pioneer days. Rachel Carson, with her
unprecedentedly influential work on the effects of pesticides in na-
ture, is immediately brought to mind upon the topic of women's
accomplishments. She is still considered to be America's most fa-
mous female naturalist (Norwood 147). (I thought it important to
mention Carson, even though her work was all done in the twenti-
eth century.) To list a couple of other accomplishments, Kate
Brandagee was offered the position of curator of botany at the Cali-
fornia Academy of Science (Bonta 86), and Elizabeth G.K. Britton
was considered one the three most prominent worldwide bryologists
(Bonta 129). Anna Botsford Comstock, a famous entomologist,
published the Handbook ofNature Study which soon became known
as the "Nature Bible" (Bonta 154). Annie Trumbull Slosson, an-
other entomologist, had a species of insect named after her. The
species with the epithet slossonae could not represent all that she
discovered (Bonta 169).
On top of these accomplishments, which I could go on listing for
pages, these women not only defied the misconceptions mentioned
by their involvement in nature, they consistently proved it wrong
by throwing themselves into their work. Every woman of whom I
read was characterized by hard work and long hours, sometimes
despite failing health. Another commonplace was that these women
worked till very old ages, most till their eighties. Anna Comstock,

for example, retired a full five years after her husband did, even
though the two worked together for their entire married life
(Comstock 252). It so happened, also, that Anna was still teaching
until just two weeks before her death (Bonta 166). The dedication
to and excellence of these women's work in nature I found to be
So far, I have presented what I learned about the traditionally
viewed role of women in nature as compared with that of men, and
the seemingly contrasting significant accomplishments of women
in nature. As I read more and more about the work of these women
naturalists, despite the fact that they were so doubted by men who
worked in the same field, it seemed significant to me to focus on
their relationships with these men. Each woman was greatly influ-
enced by the men in her life, and I began to notice a sort of pattern
in these relationships. These relationships were consistent among
most of these women, not because they each had identical relation-
ships with the prominent men in their lives, but because these rela-
tionships all reflected the way in which they viewed and went about
their work. Mostly, women who worked with men took on a sup-
porting role. However, this does not negate the fact that the women
viewed the natural world in a whole different manner than men,
and, in fact, these relationships supported that fact (Norwood xv).
This all resulted from the simple, yet often-denied fact that men
and women inherently view this world in much different lights.
The major example I found of this behavioral/psychological dif-
ference was exemplified by the life of Anna Botsford Comstock.
Four specific examples clearly displayed her acquisition of a sup-
porting role to her husband, John "Harry" Comstock. The first two
examples related expressly to the couple's research and experimen-
tation. Even before their marriage, Harry gave Anna her first set of
drawing tools, with which she began drawing insects for him (Bonta
157). During their life together, Anna continued to draw the insects
Harry found, eventually enabling him to classify much of the
Coccidae of America (Comstock 130). Though he greatly praised
Anna's work, the bottom line was that Harry ended up with much
of her credit. Secondly, upon the initial publication of her own book,
The Handbook of Nature Study, Harry thought it would lose five
thousand dollars (Bonta 154). Despite this obviously mistaken think-
ing, however, Anna viewed her husband as being supportive. Did
she just overlook his obvious doubt of her work? The answer must
be "yes," because this type of what seems nowadays as almost con-
descending approval, is said to have typified their marriage (Bonta
Examples were also evident in the couple's life together outside
of their profession. A story I found somewhat amusing, in some-
what of a sick way, told of a time when Anna made too much pie
crust and the couple ended up with enough cranberry pie to feed an
army. When Harry tired of this treat, he simply threw the pies away,
despite "shocking and scandalizing (Anna's) frugal self' (Comstock
102). Although this may seem to some as an insignificant occur-
rence, it seems to accurately reflect the couple's relationship, even
professionally. A final example was, simply enough, that Anna
stated, upon Harry's stroke and acquiring of terminal illness, that
"this calamity, for us, ended life. All that came after was merely
existence" (Bonta 166). A final seemingly minor detail, yet one that
struck me as significant, was simply that on the first page of her
own autobiography (from which I have taken much of this informa-
tion), is a large picture of her husband.
Admittedly, Anna and Harry's dedication to one another displayed
an ideal marital relationship. However, it was glaringly clear to me,
in reading Anna's own words, some as previously quoted, that her
life revolved around him. And while she engaged in so much im-
portant entomological study and research, it was usually dictated
by his work. I am not discounting this, or saying that it is wrong; I
am merely reflecting that, because of the time in which they lived,
Anna's way of thinking seemed to be so much resolved to the fact
that her work revolved around her husband's that she did not even

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Fireflyer Companion

question it. She looked upon his dominance of their personal rela-
tionship with unquestioning laughter, as is evident in the humorous
tone she used to tell the cranberry pie story. She viewed her work,
and even her life, as her own for the simple fact that she lived in a
world where something that was a woman's own work or posses-
sion was usually something given to her by a man. And I, as a woman
approaching the twenty-first century, am forced to question any
thinking of the sort.
Just about every other woman naturalist before the twentieth cen-
tury worked with the mindset of Anna Comstock. Countless women
drew for men, as Anna did for Harry. Jane Colden's early floral
drawings specifically displayed the fact that illustration had become
a female occupation in which women could adhere to their natural
inclination to decorate (Norwood 60). It is interesting, and perti-
nent, I believe, to point out that most women naturalists had posi-
tive relationships with the men in their lives. Alice Eastwood, a
botanist, spoke confidently of her positive male friendships (Bonta
96). Anna Comstock also had this to say on the subject: "Blessed is
the girl who learns early in life that men are good" (Bonta 155).
Most women worked under male mentors and felt positive support
from these men, as well as the men in their families. These good
relationships contributed to the inclination for these women to un-
questioningly accept the inferior role they took to these men. They
were grateful for the support they received from these men, which
to women today would undoubtedly be seen as condescending. They
viewed these relationships as positive, when today they would surely
be seen as negative.
Ever since the pioneer days up until the twentieth century, and
even beyond that, women's role in the study of nature has been
downplayed. While this is a fairly logical fact, I became over-
whelmed with its irony as I did my research. As I have said before,
it did not necessarily infuriate me, but rather interested me, and

made me more aware of the intensity with which these women stud-
ied nature. You see, I thought and thought about why women would
so passively accept almost condescending support from fathers,
brothers, husbands, and mentors. I realized, after speculation, that
it all boils down to the unconditional commitment these women
had to their work. They were so intensely dedicated that they were
concerned with their work and nothing else. They thought little about
why or how they received the opportunity to work in nature; they
cared so little about recognition that they did not even think twice
when a husband or a mentor received their deserved credit; and
they obviously did not think twice about the perceived role of women
in the study of nature. These women's sole thought was that they
were learning about and helping to provide others with knowledge
of the natural world. One female entomologist summed it all up
when she said, "My work means more to me than living..." (Bonta
Intrigued and questioning trails, Stacy Hannah

REFERENCES: Berta, Marcia Myers. 1991. Women in the Field:
Americas Pioneering Women Naturalists. Texas A&M University
Press: College Station, Texas. Comstock, Anna Botsford. 1953. The
Comstocks ofCornell. Comell University Press: Ithaca, New York.
Gould, Stephen Jay. June 1993. "The Invisible Woman." Natural
History, 102:6. American Museum of Natural History: New York,
New York. LaBastille, Anne. 1980. Women and Wilderness. Sierra
Club Books: San Francisco, California. Norwood, Vera. 1993.Made
From this Earth. The University of North Carolina Press: Chapel
Hill, North Carolina.
Hannah is a sophomore in the Honors Program majoring In
Animal Science and took BNHFF in the spring of 1996.

"After reading about you and your extreme interest in fireflies
in the St. Petersburg Times, I thought you would appreciate the
following poem written by my mother to my daughter."

Rebecca Heard a Firefly

"Did you hear the firefly?"
Asked Rebecca who's only three.
"Did you hear the firefly?
I heard it calling me."

And so I listened carefully,
I know its quite absurd.
But I listened and I listened,
and never heard a word.

"Don't you hear it? Listen!
And when its light is lit
he tells me all about himself.
I mean every little bit."

"He tells me that's his job,
to light up in the dark.
And that's why you can find him
in almost every park."

So, once again I listened
and listened with all my might.
From the deepest of my memories,
I, too, had heard one night.

Oh, those many years ago.
Was I really only three?
But, yes, I heard the firefly.
He really talked to me.

Rebecca and I sat and listened.
We saw the little glow.
And we each received a message
as the light would come and go.

I love you, my Rebecca.
I love your sweet, sweet ways.
And Rebecca said she loves me
and will for all our days.

Come on little firefly,
keep talking to we two.
And we'll always remember
the night we talked to you.
Edna T. Thomas

I thought I should pass this along to you. I hope you enjoyed

Sincerely, Lynn.
St. Petersburg, FL

Thanks Lynn, and Grandma Thomas. I think this poem will
become part of the American lightningbug tradition. fd/

Vol. 1, Number2 ~- Spring 1996

Fireflyer Companion

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