Title: Fireflyer companion and letter
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Title: Fireflyer companion and letter
Series Title: Fireflyer companion and letter
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Language: English
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Publisher: Department of Entomology. University of Florida.
Publication Date: Winter 1993-94
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Fireflyer Companion& Letter

Vol. 1, Number 14 Winter 1993-94

Where are the Lightningbugs?

Last fall the The Wall Street Journal (2 Sep 93) ran a front page article express-
ing concern that fireflies may be disappearing. Several activities of humans were
mentioned as possibly being connected. I suspect that many of the species that I
used to see and census here in Alachua County may no longer be present. There
is reason for attention if not concern. In the past decade herpetologists have noted
an apparent world-wide decrease in the number of frogs, and even held a confer-
ence to discuss it. Among questions for us to ask: is the absence of fireflies appar-
ent or real?, is it local or general?, is it a natural phenomenon that could have
serious consequences, given the humanization of the firefly world?, are there hard
data available, or can we get some and how?, if fireflies are actually on the decline
can we do anything about it?, and, is there something we can be doing before we
know for sure? I have gotten several letters and phone calls asking about this, and
have made this the opportunity to start a firefly-letter a little earlier than I had
planned. I can pass along some of my thoughts and perhaps get readers to do
some thinking and looking too. A line from a recent letter is a start and a title...

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

What can I do

to help?
Alysse & Daniel
Leesburg FL

Dear Alysse and Dan,
Yours is a good, and embarrassing
question. I should have been thinking on
it a long time ago. First I'll warm up to it
with some preliminary cogitations, that I
will do here, out loud. Maybe these will give
you some ideas and you will send them
in. We need observations, ideas, and di-

Lightningbugs play a special role in
childhood and its memories. They are a
part of the personal Currier and Ives Days
of millions of Americans. They are as
popular as dinosaurs, without benefit of
Hollywood animations and hype. They lin-
ger in fond recollections, in vivid images
of chasing them over the lawn just before
bedtime when deepening shadows grew
menacingly at lawn edges. Strangers have
told me of their personal experiences with
Mason and mayonnaise jars and flashes
on their bedstands.
I am asked, by writers, reporters, teach-
ers, and mothers, with an answer in the

affirmative being expected, whether the
fireflies have been poisoned by pesticides.
When I say that there is no direct informa-
tion available on the matter, I sometimes
get the feeling that my answer may be sus-
pect because of my known connection
with Entomology.
There are a number of reasons why we
may not be seeing fireflies so often nowa-
days. Ever more of us live in urbanized ar-
eas where there are fewer undisturbed
grasslands and creek sides; where there
are more streetlights, where more twi-
lights are unseen while we watch
TV-news, and seldom if at all do we sit on
the porch reading the newspaper by fad-
ing skylight and watching playing children;
and where there are fewer safe parks and
known neighbors.
Even suburbs have had their soils
shoved around, mixed, and structurally
damaged, and made less hospitable for
earthworms and other firefly prey. And yes,
where there might have once occurred
fireflies, more herbicides and pesticides
have been used to encourage sterile mo-
nocultures of socially approved vegetation.
I have noted to questioners that it is rea-
sonable to expect that contaminants from
various sources, in the water, air, and soil
that are known to kill other things, certainly
kill fireflies and their prey too.

And, how can one estimate the acre-
age and diversity of habitats that have
been built upon, paved over, and put into
agriculture production. It runs into the mil-
lions. Remember, Thomas Barbour ex-
pressed his concern over Florida and a
Vanishing Eden decades before the
booms since World War II.
Consider too, there is more stray light
from street- and yard-lights, and city-light
reflections from clouds, that shine in little
eyes. These are pollution to lightningbugs
trying to find mates with wee little biolu-
minescent lanterns in their tails!
Another way that human population
growth and "progress" has mal-affected
fireflies, at distances even greater than the
reach of sky-light, has to do with available
ground water. The level of water-tables
has dropped in many areas because of the
amount of water that is pumped from
wells. Lowered tables mean loss of habi-
tats-marshes and wet areas around
ponds and streams, the last themselves
dependent on water reaching the surface,
There is also a focused attack on fire-
flies. Tens of millions of them have been
collected over the years for the
light-emitting chemicals that they have in

Continued on page 2, see Save


Save, continued from page 1
their tails, especially the emission-facili-
tating enzymes generically known as lu-
ciferase. These chemicals are used in ba-
sic research, for illuminating points of ac-
tivity on chromosomes and potentially for
looking for life in Space, in medical and
agricultural research, and for disease di-
Of course, the collectors probably
mostly net common, widely-occurring and
likely "renewable" grassland species, such
as the Big Dipper Firefly (Photinus pyralis)
and various common Photuris species
[see sl article]. But, undoubtedly rare and
uncommon species are taken, local popu-
lations certainly have been eradicated, and
rare and new (emerging) species have
been wiped out. Mass collectors, children
and adults alike will not discriminate rare
species, and pecuniary fixation will dis-
place other and abstract concerns.
A newspaper story a couple of years ago
quoted a firefly-tail-collecting mother who
said something to the effect that every time
she saw a firefly's flash she saw a penny.
In contrast, another mother sent me a
poem that her mother had written about
fireflies for her daughter. (When I find
these two filed references I will give more
The foregoing introduction warms us up
to addressing the key questions. It reminds
us that lifestyles have changed, says that
there are reasons to be suspicious that fire-
flies are at risk, and that their enemies "is
Now, what data would it take to satisfy
skeptics and fence-sitters? Where could
we find the evidence that is needed? Can
we only now begin to gather it? Are there
no old records that will give tentative but
better answers than the circumstantial
notions that I started with?

Museum Answers
Insect collections in museums and the
people who care for them are not the
anachronisms that many people (includ-
ing some politicians and university admini-
strators) think. They are the archives, the
repositories of stored information of con-
ditions, ecologies, places, and summers
past. Were atmospheric poisons killing off
our insects A) years ago? look inside the
carcasses of faded and brittle museum
firefly specimens. Are tests for pesticide
residues only positive for specimens col-
lected after the pesticide was used? Test
specimens that were deposited long ago,
with their carefully prepared labels. Were
insect inhabitants of pure water only,
present in the Potomac, Shenandoah, and
Susquehanna 50, 80, 110 years ago? Look

at specimens that were collected on these
rivers back then, for there are specimens
in collections from that long ago.
Insect collections also used to routinely
"archive" old men with squinting, lens-as-
sisted eyes, smelly clothes, and bow ties
(long an outdated curiosity, but bows
didn't drape into trays and break speci-
mens), that took the welfare of their well-
curated charges very seriously, and that
worked overtime for life, for nothing, for
love. They were the unsung treasures of
research museums, but they too are nearly
extinct and few are being cultivated today.
I know an elderly insect taxonomist who
has even spent most of his home life bent
over his personal microscope studying his
flies. In World War II he was a medical
entomologist in the tropical Pacific with
the U.S. Army. His wife has said that when
he dies she will have him stuffed (curated
by a taxidermist) sitting there at his scope,
and then she can always see him and not
notice any difference.
Such insect taxonomists know and re-
spect the past, labor long, personally and
intently in the present, and prepare for a
future they won't see but hope will be
there, by maintaining and improving col-
lections, and helping anyone who comes
along that shows an interest. Sometimes
age and destroyed collecting sites make
them become cynical, and as sour as they
sometime smell. More and more they
must feel as though they will become (ob-
jective) paleontologists considering that
the instant an insect becomes extinct in
nature, specimens of it in museums be-
come fossils, and perhaps should be
placed with those in amber and rocks? ...
But, perhaps I digress?
Thus, one source of information on our
firefly question is in these museum ar-
chives: on the labels and in bodies of the
insects, and in the letters and papers of the
solitary curators. What specifically is in
such records depends upon the individual
taxonomists who observed and collected
Specimens, who exchanged information,
wrote insect labels, and especially those
who focused their attention on their own
personal favorite group of insects, and how
much time and effort have been put into
proper curating since the collectors had
to leave them in a museum's care. (I re-
member once seeing insect cabinets filled
with Parliament cigarette boxes contain-
ing crane fly specimens, the love-labor of
a deceased dipterist (student of flies). I sus-
pect they are still waiting for someone to
pick up where death took this enthusiast
from his adventure.)
First among the firefly records that are
Continued on page 5, see Save

Fireflyer Companion

Twinkle Twinkle
Half Moon on the horizon
seen through green colored glasses
It is time for her to hunt
earthbound stars by their flashes.
Constellations like Big Dipper
seemingly simple; really complex.
Shining toward earth,
they're searching for sex.
Cryptic signals are given
from ground toward heaven and back.
Timing is everything,
for the codes she must crack.
He flashes for answers to
Who? What? and Why?
She gives patterns of deceit;
just a twinkle in his eye.
Closer (flicker),
closer (flash), closer still.
This siren's light beckons him
against his will.
He throws caution to the wind
and approaches too fast.
The conflict is over,
he's now her repast. [tf]

What was the first scientific name used for a
firefly? Taxonomic literature now in use indicates
that Linnaeus first named fireflies in his Systema
Naturae, 12th Edition (1767). Among them was
what is now Photinus pyralis. Even he overlooked
his first names. In his 10th Edition (1758), he
named several fireflies, including pyralis, in the
soldier beetle genus Cantharis. Because Zoologi-
cal Nomenclature officially starts with the 10th
Edition, Cantharis pyralis, Cantharis (now
Lampris) noctiluca, Cantharis (now Luciola)
lusitanica and a few others, were the first now-
officially named species. An earlier non-accept-
able name used by Waller in 1685 was Cicindella
volans -the generic name now being used for
tiger beetles. Waller's volans was Linnaeus'
Cantharis and then Lampyris noctiluca. Based
on this information answer this question: "What
nomenclatural change must be now made to the
scientific name of the European glowworm L.
noctiluca Linnaeus?" Why? [jl&lb]

Fireflyer Companion
J.E. Lloyd, (Ed.) Gainesville, FL
Lesley Ballantyne, Wagga Wagga, NSW
Timothy Forrest, Ithaca, NY
John Sivinski, Gainesville, FL
Steve Wing, Gainesville, FL
Flora MacColl, Gainesville, FL
Mailing Address:
University of Florida
Department of Entomology
POB 110620
Gainesville, FL 32611
WWW Address:

Vol. 1, Number W1 Winter 1993-94

Fireflies at Risk
When was the last time you saw a
firefly? The last time we saw these flash-
ing beetles, many of us were probably
children. We all remember the fascina-
tion we felt as we watched these tiny
cordless lights on wings. We ran around
the fields in a frenzy trying to capture as
many as we could, collecting them in
jars for later examination. After a night
or two on a bedside table, the captives
would be set free. Despite a few ca-
sualties, our childhood fireflies returned
year after year to continue their dazzling
Where have all the fireflies gone?
There has been a lot of concern recently
about an apparent decline in the num-
ber of fireflies. Despite lack of long-term
ecological studies documenting popula-
tion trends for any single firefly species,
there is widespread perception that fire-
fly numbers may be decreasing. There
are several possible reasons for decline
in firefly numbers, including habitat de-
struction, pesticide use, and collecting
pressure. Several aspects of firefly biol-
ogy may make them particularly suscep-
tible to habitat destruction, including
the fact that most species of firefly are
quite habiLat-specific. Particular species
arc associated with specific habitats
such as wetlands, forests, and old fields.
As these habitats recede in the face of
suburban development, appropriate fire-
fly habitat is reduced. Many firefly spe-
cies are also extremely site-specific,
flashing and mating in the same locality
over many years. For example, we have
been studying the reproductive ecology
of a population of Photinus marginellus
fireflies in eastern Massachusetts for the
past Mine years. Each year, the local
breeding population of this species is
restricted to a small grove of cherry
trees, and their complete life cycle ap-
pears to be carried out underneath these
trees. Photinus species devote most of
their adult lives searching for mates, and
both males and females mate repeat-
edly over their 1-2 week lifespan
(adultspan). Between mating, adult fe-
males lay their eggs at the bases of
grasses. Photinus larvae are subterra-
nean, and probably do not travel far
afield during the two years they spend
below the soil surface feeding on earth-
worms and possibly other softbodied
invertebrates. In the spring, the larvae

Vol. 1, Number 1 4 Winter 1993-94

pupate near the surface and emerge as
adults about two weeks later, possibly
within a few meters of where they were
first deposited as eggs. Since adult
Photinus fireflies are not strong fliers,
adult dispersal distances are probably
limited. These aspects of Photinus fire-
fly biology indicate that once a breeding
population is disturbed, relocation ("mi-
gration'- to nearby undisturbed sites of
similar habitat-form may be unlikely.
Firefly Hunting. Another potential
cause of declining firefly populations is
that fireflies are still being
mass-harvested from wild populations.
For about 30 years, Sigma Chemical
Company of St. Louis, Missouri, has been
harvesting live fireflies as a source of lu-
ciferase. Luciferasc, an enzyme pro-
duced by fireflies and other luminescent
creatures, is widely used to assay ATP
(adenosine triphosphate) levels in cells.
Sigma Chemical sponsors an organiza-
tion called the Sigma Firefly Scientists
Club, which pays amateur collectors a
penny for each firefly captured from the
wild, regardless of species. After pro-
cessing, Sigma sells these beetles as
Desiccate Whole Fireflies ($12.80 per
gram), or as one of several processed
firefly products, such as Luciferasc Pow-
der ($41.84 per milligram).
Several millions of fireflies have been
collected for Sigma from the Midwest
and eastern United States over the years,
although Sigma will not give an exact
number. One proud collector, described
as the "Lightning Bug Lady" of Vinton,
Iowa in a recent article in the Wall Street
Journal, catches and sells as many as a
million fireflies to Sigma each year. Fire-
fly collectors generally catch anything

that flashes in the night, and Sigma
indiscriminately processes all fireflies,
without distinguishing common or rare
species. While mass-harvesting may not
be a problem for some of the more com-
mon firefly species, this level of harvest-
ing sustained over a few years may eas-
ily wipe out Populations of many less
common firefly species. Thus, amateur
collectors sponsored by Sigma may in-
advertently be driving breeding popula-
tions of many firefly species to local ex-
Hope for Fireflies. There is hope for
fireflies, however, because luciferase
harvesting from wild fireflies is no longer
necessary. Several years ago scientists
cloned the gene for firefly luciferase, and

recombinant firefly luciferase (pro-
duced by bacteria in the lab) is now
commercially available. This recombi-
nant luciferase provides a purer form of
the enzyme for research purposes,
eliminating the need to collect and pro-
cess huge numbers of wild fireflies to
obtain this enzyme.
We can preserve the magic of sum-
mer nights filled with flying beacons of
light. People who care about keeping
fireflies around should let Sigma and
others know that the unnecessary har-
vesting of these beetles should be
stopped. You can write to: Mr. Tom Cori,
Chief Executive Officer, Sigma-Aldnich
Corporastion, 3050 Spruce St., St. Louis,
Missouri 63103, or call Sigma technical
service at 1-800-325-5832. Let them
know that you think they should stop
harvesting live fireflies. Let's keep fire-
flies in the air, flying and flashing.
[Jeff Monchamp and sl]

i ---- -


-^ w U---

Because the kids glow for no obvious
reason humans think we must not light
up for sex!

Twice when I was growing up I came
across an unusual sort of light-
ningbug. They had green flashing
lights, prominent eyes, and fat hairy
bodies. They looked like bees with
flashing lights on the ends of their ab-
domens. Do you know of any such
lightning bug?
Pittsburgh, PA
Dear Joseph,
I am stumped. I have never seen nor
heard of such a one. A fuzzy beetle, to
say nothing of it having a light too, would
be a special treat. Next time I am near
the sw Penn border I shall keep my eyes
open! [jl]

Fireflyer Companion

Other Fires Other Flies

The Luminescence of Fireflies Not

I. Introducing Phengodid Glowworms

Millions of insects live in darkness. They
lurk beneath bark and fallen leaves, under-
ground and under refrigerators. In large part
they do so to avoid reflecting light and being
seen. The American cockroach is a too-fa-
miliar example. The long antennae and flat-
tened body mark it as an animal that gets
along by its senses of touch and smell while
living under something in the gloom. A hid-
den life for so small and fragile a creature
makes sense. To venture out only at night,
to be invisible, is protection against the ap-
petites that relish cockroaches and other
sheltering creepers.
Therefore, it is interesting when a boldly
colored insect, such as a butterfly, appears
to be designed to be seen. We must assume
that this self-advertising is due to something
very important in the life of the advertiser.
Luminescent insects are the ultimate in the
obvious. Far from trying to avoid reflecting
light, they actually emit it! By breaching the
night they become the most conspicuous of
things, lights in darkness. First, we wonder
at their beauty and then we wonder why it
should exist.
Beauty is an opinion. But for me, of all the
lovely shining things, the glowworms of the
family Phengodidae are the most marvelous.
These glowworms are actually the juveniles
and adult females of a beetle and relatives
of the fireflies. They are long cylindrical crea-
tures, small-headed, with a sleek, occasion-
ally plump appearance. Phengodid glow-
worms are not often encountered. A pioneer
of bioluminescence studies, Princeton pro-
fessor E. Newton Harvey, noted that he had
seen only four living specimens of North
American species in twenty-five years. Very
rarely someone locates a concentration of
them. A friend [sw] once discovered a de-
pression in a meadow that held dozens of
young larvae crawling among the blades of
grass. Another [jl] came across a species in
the jungles of Colombia that was in the un-
usual "habitat" of tree branches. But, most
phengodid glowworms spend most of their
time under stones, under fallen trees (logs),
or underground. If you wish to see a
phengodid you must put considerable trust
in luck or put considerable effort into the
search (a California naturalist, the late Dar-
win Tiemann, once dug for 50 hours to find
a single larva of the Western Banded Glow-
worm, Zarhipus integripennis). The effort is
rewarded once the insect is in hand, for
these often huge (up to 70 mm) animals are
speckled and striped with a score or more
of soft green lights, its movements traced in
rippling light.
Looking for phengodids can be almost as

memorable as the insect itself. I recall one
stormy Florida night when a flashlight shone
into a flood water caused it to boil with
leeches, and flashlights pointed up illumi-
nated treetrunks plastered with thousands
of earthworms. They were climbing to es-
cape drowning in the soaking mud and were
joined by other luckless subterranean crea-
tures. Here and there marooned on humps
of around, Dale rare firefly larvae glimmered.

A male Phengodes nigromaculata, attracted
by a perfume (pheromone) and flying above
an adult female would see this pattern of
"landing strip" lights upon her back and sides.

A luminous centipede, captured in a cranny
by a larger relative, flashed a bright white
light in its death struggle. And the greatest
cause for celebration were two phengodid
glowworms found huddled on stumps.
The flood, by forcing up the luminous un-
derworld, revealed the surprising fact that we
tread over sunken constellations scattered
through the earth. While phengodids are the
most spectacular, other glowing organisms
live underfoot. Besides the centipedes and
firefly larvae, there are luminous springtails
(insectan Order Collembola), click beetle
larvae (family Elateridae), millipedes, and
earthworms, all that spend at least part of
their lives buried underground or in rotting
Why do phengodids and these others
shine in a solid, totally non-transparent envi-
ronment? It seems at first to be like trying to
shout in a vacuum. The difficulty in answer-
ing such a question is compounded by the
difficulty of making observations in nature.
What habitat could be less available to hu-

Fireflyer Companion

mans? It is not much easier to follow the
natural lives of insects under an inch of soil
than it is to watch the doings of abyssal
shrimp under a mile of seawater. But no
observation platform can dive submarine-
like beneath a willow thicket!
Phengodid are representative of another
puzzling phenomenon, that of female
neotony, the continuance of the larval body
plan into adulthood. Like Peter Pan, female
phengodids appear never to grow up. Their
reproductive organs mature, but they main-
tain their "childhood" forms and grow only
larger quite a bit larger compared to their
males. While the female design is for a wing-
less exterior, decked with lights and
stretched over a stuffing of eggs, the male
juvenile completes his metamorphosis
(transformation) into a specialized and un-
usual adult beetle. He bears short wing-cov-
ers elytraa, el'-ih-truh), and his large, feath-
ery antennae wave over a pair of sharp,
sickle-shaped jaws (mandibles). In his short,
wild life, he is designed to find females, kill
sexual rivals, and mount huge glowing
mates. He will not feed, other than to sip
moisture from leaves, and he dies a few days
after growing up.
Before looking into one explanation for the
phengodid peculiarity of subterranean light,
let me introduce our North American
phengodid fauna. [js]
(to be continued)

Science fiction titles "Jurassic Sex" or
"Attraction By a 50-Foot Female" might
capture the flavor of love in phengodid
beetles. Males fight to the death (c) for a
chance to mate with enormously larger
females (b). Drawing by John Randall from
a book published by Academic Press.

Vol. 1, Number 1 Winter 1993-94

Save, continued from page 2
available, are the places and dates that fire-
flies have occurred. The map of the geo-
graphic distribution ofPhotinuspyralis that
appears on page 9 uses data from the la-
bels of over a 1000 museum specimens
that I have examined, from more than a
dozen university and other collections.
Such maps can now be constructed for
many of the roughly 180 species in the
United States. Such a map, based on all
specimens deposited since the late 1800s
is a summary, a composite. The base data
are stored in a computer, and can be dis-
sected, to see, for example, whether some
localities have no recent representation.
This could mean that the species no longer
occurs in some regions. Also, the relative
number of specimens in museums can
sometimes give a clue to the abundance
of a species.
Consider the region around New York
City (Map at right). No one would disagree
that much of the area has been altered
greatly during the past century, and that
there are fewer available firefly sites than
there were in 1880. The graph below
(Graph 1) shows the decade of collection
for the 125 specimens of eight species that
I found in museum collections.
Seven of the species are found in wood-
lands or wetlands. The other species, the
Big Dipper Firefly, is an inhabitant of grass-
land and ecologically disturbed areas, and
is commonly found around human habi-
tations (see article on page 9). A century
ago Charles Knipp* observed thatpyralis
moved into areas in nw Ohio when virgin
forest was cut. One would expect that
pyralis records from the NYC area might
differ from those of other species, and
indeed they do (Graph 2).
When pyralis records are separated it
appears that this species may not have
been present in the region until the 1940s

C 45
E 40
"Z 35
( 25
0o 20
E 15
E 10

h- Og w Q

0oo o000
) 0 0 0 ) ( 0

Decade Captured
Graph 2. Same data-base as in Graph 1, but
Big Dipper records have been graphed
separately because the ecology of this
apparent "weed species" is conspicuously
different. The firefly history of the area is
probably very complex and may never be
understood (see text).

SOthers pyralis

- Ii _
- II ~

Map 1. A map of the New York City area with the sampled counties in New Jersey and New
York shaded. Manhattan (NYC) is the north-south elongate darker-shaded island in the
Hudson River, dividing the shaded areas. Long Island (NY) is east-west in the center, and

*Science 1939,89:386. Connecticut is north across L. I. Sound.

- 45
E 40
"0 35
0 25
0 20
5 15
- 10

I,- CO N 0 IT R S9 f CO
0 R0 00 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Decade Captured
Graph 1. Museum holdings of 8 species from
16 NJ and NY counties in the NYC area
(shaded in the map). By taking into account
differences in the ecology of the species more
can be learned. See Graph 2 and text.

Vol. 1, Number 1 4 Winter 1993-94

and since then, like others (?), it has gradu-
ally decreased in numbers, or disappeared.
Now the real detective work begins. We
need hypotheses to test, and to formulate
them we first need working (preliminary)
interpretations, speculations, and predic-
tions. As examples, observe the changes
in firefly specimen records: (1) an initial
increase (1880-1910), (2) followed by a
long-continued decrease in specimens of
wet- and woodland species, (3) the ap-
pearance of pyralis' specimens for the
1940s recall that this is a firefly that uti-
lizes man's lawns, parks, and meadows,
and, (4) after a peak of 1950s records, a
decreasing number ofpyralis records.
Speculations? (to remind the reader

ably-conspicuous absence the distribu-
tion map (page 9) shows that the NYC area
is at the northern limit of pyralis' geo-
graphic distribution. -Could we be see-
ing the effects of changes in two ecological el-
ements, habitat and climate? -Could
pyralis gradually have moved northward
into the region with the increased availabil-
ity ofsuitable habitat after (2) the regional cli-
mate had moderated with winter warming
from heating by houses, factories, steam
vents, etc)?
The "terminal" decrease in numbers of
all species could be from continuing and
extensive habitat destruction, and a grow-
ing lack of interest in insects, and an in-

when statements are not conclusions, but Continued on page 10, see Save

Fireflyer Companion

initial considerations being shared, I shall
use the Iimian typeface for key words,
Venice the city being an Italian city of light
in 14th Century European Renaissance):
The initial increase of records, is due to an
increase in entomological interest -
check the records, publications of the New
York and the Brooklyn Ent Societies, and
State lists for New Jersey and New York.
The subsequent decrease is due to in-
creased loss of wet- and woodland habi-
tat and/or decrease in entomological inter-
est (butpyralis records increase?) -check
specimen records for adjacent rural areas,
collection records for other insect species,
and contemporary publications for wan-
ing entomological interest and for studies,
discussion, and alarm, apropos of habitat
There was a sudden appearance of
pyralis records, after more than a half
century of now (post facto) not-

_ ^^XX

Suppose your mission was to design
an insect that could easily be found. You
might make a large insect with brightly
colored, flapping wings, like a butterfly,
that would be conspicuous in daylight.
But for the nighttime, could you imag-
ine anything easier to see than
a flashing firefly? You
might try de-
signing an in-
sect that
makes loud
sounds so
that you
it in the
dark. But if you have ever tried to pin-
point the location of a cricket or katydid
by its chirps or trill, you know it isn't easy.
Their sounds disclose their vicinity, but
the exact location is often difficult to find.
You might want to make a large, light col-
ored insect. It would show up in moon-
light; but that light would be from an-
other source, reflected from your insect.
The firefly makes its own light. That
means that the firefly flashes with or
without a moon. And each flash shows
you exactly where the firefly is at that mo-
Where should you look for fireflies?
Your own back yard might be the first
place to try, even if you live in a city. More
often, though, a drive in the country is
the way to find places where fireflies live.
Always take every precaution for your
own safety, of course. It is helpful to have
two people, one to drive and one to
watch. Peaceful roads without heavy
traffic offer fewer distractions, and driv-
ing slowly makes it easier to spot the
flashes. Often fireflies can be found right
beside the road, which is very conve-
nient for collecting and making obser-
vations. Roads cut through various habi-
tats including forests, fields, and
marshes, and run beside lakes and
beaches. Bridges cross creeks and riv-
ers. So, from a car you can check many
different kinds of places easily. Fireflies
might be found in or near any of these
The best time of day to look for fire-
flies is almost always in the dark. (We'll
consider exceptions in a later issue.) Af-

ter sunset as the twilight fades, until an
hour or two after sunset is a good time
to find many different species. Some are
active all night long, while other species
are active for only a few minutes each
You are more likely to find fireflies dur-
ing the warmer months of the year, dur-
ing spring, summer, and fall. Exactly
which species you can find will change
from month to month. Adults of some
species are active during only a few
weeks each year, while other species
may be found month after month. In
some warm climates, fireflies can be
found year round. Where the winters are
cold, though, your best bets are the
warmer months. During their cold "off"
seasons nearly all live as larvae in dead
logs, the earth, or in leaf litter.
When you are at a location looking for
fireflies, be sure to look in all the differ-
ent levels of vegetation. Different species
of fireflies may be seen in different parts
of the same habitat. Some fly close to
the ground, while others fly above the
treetops, and others fly in between.
Finding fireflies is easy, and the advice
above can make it even easier! Please
share your tips and experiences. Send
these, and your questions to the Fireflyer.

I never saw a flashing bee,
nor anyone who'd seen one;
I wonder if their honey glows?
I'd flash myself to tree one!



"just because we glow a little, one should
not presume we are sexually active!"

Fireflyer Companion

Roadside Attractions

A forum for fireflyers

What are the glowing larvae just be-
neath the surface of a small nearby
Gunther, Kalamazoo MI
Dear Gunther,
I believe your lights were those of fire-
fly larvae. Larvae of some Pyractomena
species are semiaquatic and go under-
water to hunt snails. Note whether there
are flying, flashing adults (males) over
the adjacent shore of this lake in early
June. If they emit 4-6 rapid, yellow pulses
each 3-4 sec (ca 15C) they are Py. dis-
persa; if a 0.3-0.4 sec yellow flare, they
are Py. linearis; if an amber flicker of 8-
12 rapid pulses (too fast to count) they
are Py. angulata; and if a dim glow of 3-
10 sec with the OFF between glows of a
similar duration, they are Py. sinuata. Of
course you could have something that is
unknown- Michigan's LP has some spe-
cial features, perhaps due to its isolation,
being open only to the south now, with
this door having opened after a postgla-
cial prairie barrier(?). [jl]

Where can I find some general in-
formation on fireflies?
John, Ames IA
Dear John,
There have been no recent books on
fireflies, other than those for juveniles,
some of which we will list in the next is-
sue. Your best bet, if you have access to
a pretty good library, is to look up some
of the reviews and others listed below.
One and 5 give references on various
topics. If your library does not have the
ones you need, drop me a line and I can
send you thermocopies. [jl]
1. Annual Review ofEntomology, vols for
1971 and 1983, Annu. Reviews, Inc.
2. Chapter 8 [in] How Animals Communi-
cate, 1978, Thomas Sebeok, Ed., Indiana
University Press.
3. Chapter 8 [in] Sexual Selection and
Reproductive Competition in Insects,
1979, M. & A. Blum, Eds. Academic
4. 1984 Yearbook of Science and the Future
Ency. Britt., Inc. pages 188-201.
5. Insect Bioluminescence [in] Biolumines-
cence in Action, 1978, P Herring, Ed.,
Academic Press.
6. Mimicry in the Sexual Signals of Fireflies,
Scientific American. 1981, 245:138-145.

Vol. 1, Number 1 Winter 1993-94

V0 run." You'll see why this certainly is true
Firefly 'ails for fireflies, later.
Males flash at clumps of tall dark weeds,
with Bean which are like black holes in space warps
that seem to attract more than their share
We leave the truck pulled off the road in of hexapod pulsars. But these holes don't
a solitary campsite clearing, and walk capture and swallow their prey, and turn
down the hill the last 200 feet to the bridge, them into anti-fireflies. Would a firefly on
and a very cold stream called Lone Hem- the other side of a real black hole have its
lock Run. We are at 2500 feet in the for- light on all of the time and emit darks? That
ested mountains of Garrett County in west- would be more expensive for fireflies in
ern Maryland- one of my favorite states this world, for searching anyway, but it
- in the "northern" Appalachians by some could work up close.
reckoning. Below us, after tunnelling a I once had a professor who declared
quarter of a mile further through the drip- that I would have to deal with astronomy's
ping hemlock, yew and laurel, the Run Doppler redshifts in firefly luminescence
caucuses with the rocky North Fork of the for my firefly studies. He was serious too.
Potomac, what there is of it. I came up here A color-shift that firefly eyes could detect
the first time several years ago, to see if would be emitted by a firefly that was trav-
Photuris potomaca, a species origi- eling so fast that he would be
nally found along the river just heated to an incandescent
above Washington, got this glow from the friction of
far upstream. If it did I fig- l passing air- and might
ured that it might have get someone a grant
jumped the divide go- from the Department
ing west and gotten of Defense. I have
into the drainage of wondered whether
the Ohio River. No by manipulating the
telling how far west it position of firefly
could be, ifitgotover black holes on a
the divide. Settlers lawn, you would be
went west, and this able to control the
River Firefly might search of the Big
have crossed the di- Dipper Firefly,
vide and gone west Photinus pyralis, in a
too- but, maybe it got predictable and quan-
into the Potomac by going tifiable way.
east through the divide? The flash of the Lone
Anyway, that is why I was in the Hemlock Firefly looks simple
mountains, where Lone Hemlock Run enough. You always want to look
joins an embryonic Potomac River. close at the flashes of a firefly from the side
In the twilight under the shrubs by a near and below to see if it has any structure to
corner of the bridge, a firefly has started to it. If he is flying fast enough, the flash will
fly, emitting his short flash each 3-4 sec- be stretched out in space so you can see
onds. No, he's stopped. There muststill be time along the flight axis. Sometimes
a little too much light for him, and he could smeared out flashes twinkle, ripple, or
see that only after he had left his shady hitch. The human eye may be confusing
perch and flew out into the open. Five min- time and space and flash intensity, and a
utes later there are a dozen more like him, coleoptical illusion may give some diag-
each hovering and flashing, and moving nostic assistance, but its not fool-proof.
to flash again a yard later- space is time From underneath, the flash of an upstate
to Einstein and a firefly, but the fireflies New York Photuris firefly looks like a bow
dealt with this truth first. How much space/ tie that isn't tied exactly in the middle.
time does a male have each evening, in a There is an unnamed Photinus in Arkan-
lifetime, to search for a mate or mates? sas that I found on the bank of the Arkan-
At dusk, when ambient light is high, fire- sas River, that has a flash something like
flies sometimes pick their places to flash, it, but it flies so low to the ground that it is
They aim their flashes at nooks and cran- hard to see a bow tie. This is the only North
nies that are more likely to harbor females. American Photinus I know of whose
When the females see the correct flash males have a rapidly modulated flash but
they flash back and attract them. Some- there are several in Jamaica and South
times it takes a dozen or more such flash America. I plan to name this species after
exchanges, actually coded dialogues, be- an antique coleopterist from Indiana
fore a male reaches the female. Some- named Willis Blatchley. He put in his time
times the approaching male just "gives up" as State Geologist, retired early, and did
and leaves. This reminds me of a line from what he wanted to, he wrote several de-
a Kenny Rogers song: "You've got to know finitive books on insect taxonomy in-
when to hold em, know when to fold em; cluding "The Coleoptera of Indiana." I
Know when to walk away, know when to doubt there will be any more like him

uriless we hold special searches, and
classes to train them in what they know
they need and ask for and then learn to
leave them alone.
From a little distance the Lone Hemlock
Flasher looks to be one of the little twi-
light Photinus species, and here in west-
ern Maryland that would probably be
Photinus marginellus. But it isn't up
close this firefly is not that little and it is
not even a Photinus! It is a Photuris spe-
As shadows fill in, blacking out the de-
tails of the edges under the trees and
shrubs, another flash pattern appears. This
one is clearly, almost, the flash-dash pat-
tern that H.S. Barber described for
Photuris pennsylvanica. A sharp flash,
OFF, and then an immediate sharp ON
again for a 2-3 foot/second streak. But this
is a long way from the tidal marshes
where Barber found his pennsylvanica?
The flash-dashers fly amongst the
short-flashers, looking for love in all the
same places, it would appear, They fly
along the road, over the ditch, goldenrods
and ferns, under an overhanging bank,
and later, up into the trees. Up there you
can really see the structure of their pat-
tern, and also see that they are not all ex-
actly the same. The OFF doesn't go com-
pletely off in all of them. I have seen the
same thing in populations many miles
north of here at the edge of the glacial
moraine south of the Mohawk Valley in
New York State.
All this intense and life-serious activity
and ageless competition is pursued in a
roaring, silence that sounds like a moun-
tain stream. Under the roar, and especially
when alone and after dark, there is an in-
termittent, deep-throated murmur, or
rumble, like low conspiring voices. It's
spooky. Boulders rubbing, or cavities reso-
nating like an organ, maybe. Now the
penn-flashers have completely taken over.
The short-flashers had only 20-30 minutes
of search at most, and they have been re-
placed for the night.
Tomorrow we can compare
flash-voucherspecimens of the two flash
patterns, but it will do no good. Even un-
der the stereomicroscope they will look
the same. They are the same, the very
same males, and if short flashers had been
marked with a tiny dot of piper-cub-yellow
airplane dope on an elytron (wing cover),
they would have turned up later giving the
flash-dash pattern. There is an easier and
faster way than marking them, to see if it
is one species doing both things. If you
hold the tip of a penlight on the ground in
front of a short-flashing male the pen-
light isn't the best decoy for this but it is
small and easy to carry between fireflies
- he will switch and emit the penn-flash
as he comes to your answering decoy, if
you have timed your flash correctly after
his. [jlwb]

Vol. 1, Number 1 Winter 1993-94

Fireflyer Companion

Taxonomists often have interests and
specialties beyond their intimate knowl-
edge of the group of organisms they
taxonomize. A few actually understand the
structure and proper use of the Classical
languages that are used in formal taxo-
nomic names, and often their interests ex-
tend to history and philosophy. Such men,
and sometimes women, are among the
treasures that museum ranges (collection
rooms) harbor and protect. They help the
rest of us select terms to use for scientific
names, they tell us when we have assigned
a word to the wrong gender, when a com-
bination we suggest is inappropriate, vul-
gar, or otherwise awful, and they help us
put the correct ending (inflection I think it
may be called) on our undeleted epithets
The taxonomic-language-experts that I
know, or knew, received their education
before World War II. I know not whether
there are any coming down the trail, but I
suspect not. One such student, Ashley B.
Gurney, for a long time was associated
with the Entomology Research Branch of
the USDA, in Washington. Some time ago*
he turned his attention to the proper ren-
dition of the name Charles DeGeer (1720 -
1778)- The man De Geer named the
American firefly now known as Photuris
pennsylvanica (De Geer). For nearly a cen-
tury almost every Photuris firefly in the
United States was called by this name,
because of the (then) impossibility of dis-
tinguishing among Photuris species with
characters present in dead specimens.
Among other "factoids" concerning this
firefly name is that De Geer originally
spelled pennsylvanica with one "n" and
that the specimen he attached the name
to (what we now would call the holotype
specimen) came from the area of
Wilmington, Delaware, then part of the
Territory of Pennsylvania a firefly story
to tell later.
De Geers name, as it has appeared in
the formal presentation of the scientific
names of insects, say, "Lampyris
pensylvanica De Geer, 1774," was written
in many different forms. Among those
Gurney mentioned were DeGeer, Degeer,
de Geer, and Geer. He noted that when
used as the author of insects, the name had
been abbreviated as DeG. and Deg. Gur-
ney examined the evidence for how De
Geer himself presented and accepted his
name, in signature and set type, how his
biographers, publishers, and contemporar-

ies wrote his name, and various other
sources, practices, and variations. Gurney
noted that 1. most differences in the ren-
dering of De Geer's name involve the way
'de' is combined with 'Geer,'" that De Geer
had on occasion used CARL DeGEER, a
latinized CAROLO De GEER, and Carol. De
Geer. Linnaeus, the originator of the es-
sence (pun intended) of the scientific
naming system in use today, and a
fellow-countryman and friend of De Geer,
used the form "De Geef" in the 10th Edi-
tion of his Systema Naturae.
Gurney's paper demonstrates the care
that many taxonomists put into their use
and studies of names of biological signifi-
cance. His research and analysis could be
used in history and English, as well as bi-
ology. His bottom line was, "it is concluded
that De Geer is the correct rendering of the
surname." Unfortunately, Gurney is now
extinct, and his own, an endangered spe-
cies. [jl]
Bull. Brooklyn Ent. Soc., 1956, 51:127

Fireflies, Lightningbugs,
and Roses

What's in a name? Most people in the
United States refer to flashing lampyrids
as lightningbugs, but for more than a
century the term firefly has been used
almost exclusively in scientific literature.
Of course fireflies are neither bugs (Or-
der Hemiptera) nor flies (Order Diptera),
but which name did you grow up with?
Where did you grow up, and who did
you learn the word from? Where did
they grow up? Please drop us a line, and
we will begin to put spots on a map.

Exotic Fireflies

There are many organisms in North
America that have arrived from other
continents in the past 500 years. Some
were brought on purpose, some hitch-
hiked. A firefly arrived with ballast, and
survived nearly 150 years. Another is
known only from two very old speci-
mens, and one was intercepted re-
cently at a Florida quarantine station.
One firefly was brought from "Ceylon"
to Hawaii in the 50s to control pest
snails, but didn't work out [jl]

Fireflyer Companion

INooe#wc~dwe: qeftiF Afasews R/?iZ

o4Law caod 2e L ee4, a4 i#t Ch44". %e e ee4?

Finding Obscure
Collecting Localities
An obscure collecting locality is a
placename that appears on the locality
label of a museum specimen that can
not been found (with certainty) on maps
or in gazeteers (by a taxonomist that has
identified the specimen and wants to put
a spot on a distribution map). One of the
big-little pleasures of being an insect tax-
onomist is that of digging out such lo-
calities, and then, sometimes, visiting
them to make observations or to collect
more specimens. Such a name may be
the collectors's nickname for the site
(the Shack), or an acronym (Canara), or
use an ambiguous abreviation (F. = Fort
or Fred? Smith), or a slip of the pen or
Thirty years ago Marjorie Townes and
Ellen Linna* published the names of
many localities they had searched for,
including those they had found, those
that were used for two or more sites, and
those that they had not found. One of
their obscure localities used by a fireflyer
(H.S. Barber) was Difficult Run VA They
identified it as "Stream flowing into
Potomac River in Fairfax Co., 2 + miles
down river from Great Falls."
Here are a few of the yet-unknowns
from their list for your hunting pleasure.
Send me your findings: Aden MI; Ante-
lope Mt. OR; Atila, B.C.; Camp Holsum
CA; Club Hill MD; Cookshire PA; Hatch-
ery Arm, B.C. Kelley's Camp on Gasp6,
Que., Livingston ME, WY, & PA -, Mt.
Manitou CO; Orestum, Ont. -, Snake
River at Divide Creek ID; Sugar, B.C.;
Woodkill DE. (more later) [jl]
*Proc. Ent. Soc. Wash. 1993, 65:233.

The only color lightningbug you see
today is yellow. Everyone thinks I am
nuts, but when I was a child they came
in different colors?
Rockford IL.
Dear Deborah,
You are absolutely correct. Fireflies emit
light of different colors. The common
Photinus pyralis emits yellow light; most
Photuris fireflies emit green biolumines-
cence, most species in the genus Pyrac-
tomena emit orange-yellow light, but the
flicker of Py. angulata is orange. In South
America there is a species of Phengodid
called the railroad worm, that has spots of
green light along its sides and a brilliant
ruby-red light shining from its head. [jl]

Vol. 1, Number 1 Winter 1993-94

How can I attract fireflies to my yard
and garden?
Joann, Beltsville MD

Dear Joann,
There are many species of fireflies in
your region, but not all are candidates for
your lawn and garden. Most of them have
a rather narrow range of habitats to which
they are suited and probably would not
survive in the place you offer. However,
there is one species in particular that is
adapted to meadows, pastures and other
grassy habitats, and is sometimes referred
to as "the lawn firefly". You might say it is
sort of a "weed" species, though it is a
native American, not an introduced exotic.
This is the Big Dipper Firefly, Photinus
pyralis (L.) (see figure). This firefly occurs
throughout much of eastern North
America (see map) and often is seen over
lawns, in parks, and along roadsides. It is
the lightningbug that children know be-
cause it flies and flashes shortly after sun-
set for a half hour or so, and flies low over
the grass (up to 4-5 feet) where they can
chase and catch it.
Like larvae of other firefly species, those
ofpyralis are predators and they and other
Photinus larvae may perhaps feed exclu-
sively on earthworms. They are
subterranean, and should you manage to
get them into your yard, you may occa-
sionally find larvae and pupae while dig-
ging in the garden. However, fireflies do
not seem to occur in areas where recent
construction, lawn-making, and bulldoz-
ing have shuffled and disturbed the struc-
ture and composition of the soil. Also,
when chemicals are used in an area (pes-
ticides, lawn fertilizers) they may do dam-
age to the soil, to the worms, and to the
things the worms need, and thus keep the
fireflies from getting established.
Your mission not impossible is to give
them a start, and then hope they survive.
Finding eggs would probably be out of the
question. You must find females and re-
lease them in your yard to lay eggs not
on the lawn, but at the edge where you
have let the grass get a little deeper and
where the atmosphere near the soil is apt
to be better controlled (lawn grass is prob-

Vol. 1, Number 1 4 Winter 1993-94

ably either too hot, too dry, or flooded,
maybe, from sprinklers). Perhaps you
could let a patch of lawn or an additional
yard-wide strip at the edge grow tall (go
back to nature) as a sort of nursery. Fe-
males released there, we hope, will lay
their eggs at the bases of grass stems. A
week or so later the eggs will hatch into
worm-eating larvae. After finishing larval
development and the pupal period, the fol-
lowing June adults will appear above
ground and the males fly over the lawn
looking for mates.
Finding females may not be as difficult
as you might think. Give it a try. Then, you
must be certain they are mated. Even this
is not too difficult. Here's a guide: Photinus
pyralis is the firefly that makes the J-flash
over grass at twilight. It should be active in
Maryland for several weeks in summer.
The flying J-flashers are the males giving
their species' mating signal. Their females
are perched in the grass, and when they
see a half-second flash they count 2-3 sec
and flash a half-sec answer. The male fly
closer, flash his signal again, etc, etc, till
he reaches the female. The males will be
your competitors when you try to find fe-
males. They will not quickly find females
that are in brush or back under trees at the
edge of the lawns and field where you
should look a firefly chaser selects sites
to search by the presence of males, and
specific female perches by looking in
shady spots and nooks that males are
more likely to miss. You will get better with
experience. I don't know whether fireflies
Take a penlight and walk around the
edge of the grassy area at sites you locate
(don't go alone), and flash half-sec flashes,
first here, then there, etc. After you flash
each time, wait, and look for the yellow
answering flash at the 2-3 sec delay. If
none, move on to the next likely spot etc.
When you get an answer, flash again and
get closer, until you can see the answer-
ing female, and carefully
pick her up and put her Known geo
in a jar. It is probably bet- Firefly, Phot
ter to gently brush her
into an open bottle that
is held below her, but do
not bump her perch! Put
no holes in the lid of her
motel, for she will surely
dry out and die. Each
day that you have her, re-
move the lid and blow
gently across the mouth
of the jar. Thiswill stir
fresh air (oxygen) down
into the jar. With the lid 1
kept on, the air in the jar
will remain humid, an many rec
absolute necessity, and

there is plenty of oxygen sealed in with her
for a day or more. Try to find two or three
females. Put a thin slice of washed apple
in the jar to maintain humidity and for the
females to sink their mandibles into. Put
in a small wad of fresh grass to give
"cover" and places to climb.
Next, catch four or five males and put
them in the jar, and give them some pri-
vacy (kidding of course). We will hope that
if the females had not mated before you
caught them, they will within a couple of
days, with the males you put in the jar with
them. Put the jar with the fireflies in a place
where they can see (only) the light from
outdoors, which will keep them on a natu-

ral daylength and cycled properly. Do not
put them in a sunlit window, the heat of
their greenhouse will kill them. If you find
more females, up to maybe six or seven,
Continued on page 10, see Dipper

graphic distribution of the Big Dipper
inus pyralis (L.)

Fireflyer Companion



records U

.A-'f -.- ., I



A Firefly Paper
I have fond childhood memories of
fireflies, like a lot of other people. I re-
member going out into the soft spring
evenings to watch the sun set and lis-
ten to the sounds of nature waking up.
I would sit on the wide soft lawn be-
hind my house and watch the first
sprinkle of flashes of the spring turn into
a shower. Each spring I would stare into
the darkness searching for the blinking
lights, and I remember finding those
lights and being captivated by the
firefly. That was in Wisconsin. I also re-
member the short time we lived in Ja-
pan, looking for fireflies, and wonder-
ing if they spoke the same language as
American fireflies. Unfortunately for me
I never found out, because firefly is a
language I've never gotten a chance to
learn. In Iowa, too, I would journey out
with my little brother to watch, then
capture them in a jar for closer obser-
vation. And yes, even in Louisiana I
would go outside on warm evenings to
watch for those bright little flashes.
I had no idea why or how these
strange creatures could make their fas-
cinating little flashes, I guess I just ac-
cepted it as a part of nature. Even now I
know very little about fireflies (but I'm
learning!), and I've started to wonder
about the rest of the general (human)
population. What do people really know
about fireflies? I decided to take an in-
formal survey of my friends to see what
they knew (if anything) about fireflies.
"Facts" and Misconceptions. I de-
cided to start with the basics. First I
asked my friends if they had ever seen
a firefly before. Quite happily, all of them
had, so I proceeded to the next ques-
tion. What are fireflies? This question
was followed by much laughter, jesting,
and a jumble of answers ranging from
wrong to somewhat correct "Bugs!
Insects! Their eyes glow. Don't their
butts light up? Yeah, don't they have,
like, headlights or turn signals or some-
thing?" Since I was obviously in a group
of incredibly aware and intelligent be-
ings, I decided to ask if anyone knew
why fireflies flashed. Once again I re-
ceived a wide range of answers. "Is this
a pornographic question? Doesn't it
have something to do with mating? Is
this a sex thing?"
Encouraged by these responses, I de-
cided to push my luck and ask a slightly
more technical question do all fire-
flies have the same flashes? While the
general group consensus was that they
did, three of my friends' answers rang

true. Two speculated on male and fe-
male differences, and one, a zoology
major, said that, "all different species
have basic differences in mating rituals,
so logically, different firefly species
should be different too." Impressed by
her answer, I asked this particularly as-
tute student another question. Do all fire-
flies look the same? I was much disap-
pointed by her answer, "I guess so, I've
never really paid attention." Here we
come to the great truth of the firefly story.
Many people watch fireflies to be enter-
tained by their bright lights, but very few
actually know anything about the in-
sects. It doesn't it seem as if the firefly is
being, well...well used? We need to rem-
edy this case of mass ignorance of gen-
eral firefly information.
Adventures in Researching. First I
turned to my good friend "Webster"
(you know, the one who wrote the dic-
tionary-he's very smart) for a definition
of a firefly. This is what he told me. "Fire-
fly: any nocturnal beetle of the family
Lampyridae having a light-producing
organ at the rear of the abdomen. Also
called lightning bug. Compare glow
worm". So, I looked up glow worm as
well. "Glowworm: the larva or wingless
see Paper, continued on page 11

Save, continued from page 5
creased danger in nocturnal outdoor ac-
tivity in and near cities. But, I can say from
personal field experience, that there are
still some fireflies present in the Bronx, and
Nassau, Westchester, and Bergen Coun-
The map for one apparently rare spe-
cies, shows that it once occurred from
New England to the High Plains. There are
no archival records for New England after
the 1920s. Considering the ecology of the
species, as understood through observa-
tions I made in Nebraska and North Da-
kota, stream and pond pollution could have
been involved. Fortunately, there have
been three sightings during the
past two summers, in Connecticut,
Massachusets and Vermont.
In the next issue I will detail the na-
ture of my observational records for fire-
flies in Alachua County FL, dating from
1964. In the meantime, you might begin
to list and photograph the sites in your
area where you have seen fireflies in the
past and that you could closely monitor
on a continuing basis in the future. Have
any of your early sites been polluted with
street light emissions, or taken out of fire-
fly production for other reasons?
[jl] (to be continued)

Fireflyer Companion

Whoo? What? How? Why?

Dipper, continued from page 9

all the better. Put in a few extra males.
You might divide your stock into two jars.
After two to three days put the jars out
at the edge of your lawn, in the shade,
on their sides with the lids off, and gen-
tly slide the loose grass wads to the
mouths of the jars keeping it loose in
the mouth for easy escape of your
propagules. Then hope. You might take
some pictures of the process. It certainly
is one of the first American firefly "re-
lease programs" and deserves to be re-
corded. Good luck, and please write and
keep me informed of your progress and
success. [jl]

Trivial Flashlets
1. What State in the U.S. has more firefly
species than any other?
2. What city has a firefly festival every year and
has been designated the firefly capitol of the
3. What continent has no fireflies at all?
4. What city built a monument to honor the boll
weevil, another beetle?
5. What town has a 3-ft high statue of a
mosquito in the square by the flagpole and a
mosquito festival and queen?
6. What is the largest firefly in the world and
where does it occur?
7. Are any firefly species cave-dwellers?
(answers next issue)

Vol. 1, Number 1 Winter 1993-94

Paper, continued from page 10
female of a beetle, Lampyris noctiluca,
which emits a sustained greenish light".
While this information was somewhat
helpful, as it gave me a more specific
name to look for, it basically reviewed
what I already knew. I turned next to the
encyclopedia, which wasn't much help
either. The Encyclopedia Brittanica told
me that fireflies were soft-bodied beetles
(I guess they don't work out very often),
about 5 to 25 millimeters in length, that
use a complex system of flashes as a part
of their mating ritual. Needing more in-
depth information, I then consulted my
friend LUIS, at Library West. He gave me
a list of possibly useful sources, includ-
ing a book entitled "Studies on the Flash
Communication System in Photinus Fire-
flies," by some guy named James E.
Lloyd at the University of Michigan. I re-
trieved this book and a few others, and
began my search in earnest.
From the above mentioned book, I
was able to extract some general infor-
mation about firefly flash terminology.
According to Lloyd, a steady emission of
light is called a glow, a series of flashes
from the male to the female is called a
flash pattern, and a response flash is the
female's responding flash to the male
flash pattern. These different signals are
utilized by different species to attract and
communicate with potential mates, and
are specific to each species.
The next source I consulted was a the-
sis paper by Lawrent Lee Buschman,
"Biology and Bioluminescence of Se-
lected Fireflies in Three Genera: Pyrac-
tomena, Photinus, and Photuris." This
study was fairly useful to me because it
presented general information about
flash patterns in the introduction.
Buschman detailed the two main flash
systems that were first presented by
Lloyd. In the first system, one firefly (usu-
ally the female) stays in one place while
emitting a signal to attract a firefly of the
same species but opposite sex. He noted
that in species that use this system, the
female has a large, bright light, but the
male often does not. In the second sys-
tem, one firefly (the male) flies around
while emitting a signal to stimulate a fe-
male firefly of the same species, and the
female responds with a signal.
Another book I looked in was a doc-
toral thesis entitled "Photinus
collustrans: Reproductive Ecology of
Flightless Female Fireflies" by Steven
Rae Wing. Although he inadvertently cre-
ated a new tongue twister for firefly stu-
Continued on page 12, see Paper

Vol. 1, Number 1 4 Winter 1993-94

1. out of this world (as in "UFO")
3. handy pocket decoy
8. winter firefly color
11. firefly first defense
12. Big Dipper time-o-day
13. pyralis arena
14. posteni or: insect= : ship
17. most evidence for firefly loss
2 1. a family related to fireflies
24. stipes (abbr. In morphol. text))
25. upper leg (abbr. in morphol. text)
26. no. modes in bimodal flash
27. furcula (abbr. in morphol. text)
28. sex of J-flasher over grassland
29. either (facultative behavior)
30. Appalachian pass: water
31. crow's close, blue relative
32. no. native Hawaiian fireflies
33. Latin r, ......... plural) ending
35. male driving force i" ', ,
36. cane-
37. sperm source/male progenitor
38. Macintosh user group (abbr.)
42. American tree killed by Dutch disease
carried by a beetle
43. tarsal claw (colloq.)
44. gastropod prey of certain fireflies

46. our Twinkle2 poet
47. foot, or spider's palp
48. computer disk, not hd or low d
49. a predator's move
1. elytron (abbr. in morphol. text)
2. space for data in text (abbr.)
4. most common word for firefly
5. intestine: fore mid hind
6. Big Dipper's substrate (i.e. carpet)
7. when Winter Firefly transforms
8. necktie for insect museum taxonomist and
pinned-specimen sorter
9. flash characteristic flawed by observers' own
10. fireflyer's querulous associate
15. firefly enzyme (generic name)
16. living (chemically produced) light
18. Garrett Co. branch (i.e., stream)
19. Collembola common name

20. "100" legged arthropod
22. wingless emitter
23. Photinus underground prey
36. entomology (old abbr.)
39. integripennis emission
40. swarm: fireflies = : buffalo
41. ice when few bogs open
45. a service for specimen delivery

Fireflyer Companion


The Winter Firefly
It may come as a surprise, but summer is
not the only season that adults of North
American fireflies are abroad. There is "one
species" of rather broad occurrence in east-
ern U.S. and Canada that ecloses to
adult-hood in late summer and fall, and
hangs around until the following summer.
This is the Winter Firefly, Ellychnia corrusca
(L.). I have been collecting data on this fire-
fly for as long as I have been watching fire-
flies and it is one of the most interesting "spe-
cies" that I know.
First, it apparently is not a single species,
but a mixture of separate entities that has so
far defied taxonomic resolution- I keep mea-
suring museum specimens and collecting
incidental notes on the "complex," but since
I only very rarely see it in Florida I can only
wait for another winter trip up north. One
"sort" that is worth noting, is the small and
broad one that the early entomologist and
physician Dr. Frederick Valentine
Melsheimer named autumnalis, in 1835.
Second, though adults do not have light-
organs and certainly must use pheromones
(chemical signals) for sexual communica-
tion, all of their other features morphol-
ogy, life-history, etc reveal that they clearly


This ink drawing of the Winter Firefly
was made by a student many years ago.
When I find her name I'll give her proper
credit, but note the initials below the tip
of the right elytron. Note the diagnostic
dark bands at the lateral margins of the
pronotum, the raised lines on the elytra,
the general broad and black habitus
(body "look"). The light-colored areas on
each side of the median vitta (spot) on
the pronotum often have red, yellow, or
orange pigment. The distribution map is
preliminary, and was put together from
data on labels of museum specimens.

belong to the beetle family. Lampyridae. Ac-
tually, there are dozens of lampyrid species
that do not have lightorgans in the adult stage.
Having said this, I must go on to say that
adult corrusca sometimes do emit light. Ju-
veniles of all fireflies, as far as now known,
do have light organs. In the Winter Firefly the
larval lanterns remain functional through the
pupal stage and into the adult stage. For a few
days after adults eclose, these larval lanterns
continue to emit light when the firefly is
"roughly" handled, say, by gently being
shaken in a loosely closed fist. (Say not "seven
come eleven," but "bug come a light.")
Finally, for now, one might expect that Win-
ter Fireflies would hole up for the winter, and
remain in crevices under bark and logs, to
escape the dangers and accidents of wind,
hungry birds, and rapidly-changing tempera-
tures. They don't, at least some don't. They
are often found up on tree trunks, freezing
temperatures and all, even with tiny piles ol
snow on their backs. Fred Hough and I are
putting together a paper on this firefly that will
give some details of winter activity and adult
glowing. We will be putting our findings in a
research-teaching journal that several
fireflyers are developing. More later. [jl]

pronotum. n. shield-like plate par-
tially or totally covering the head of fire-
flies. It is the roof (dorsal sclerite) of the
first thoracic segment.
pheromone. n. molecules emitted by
an individual organism that are de-
tected by another of the same species.
Carried on the wind in what is called a
eclose. n. to emerge, as when an
adult emerges from the pupa or larva
from an egg.
Lampyridae. n. family of beetles
known as fireflies. It is closely related
to the soldier beetles and glowworm
beetles. The ending -idae identifies the
word as a family name in zoological
nomenclature. There are about 2000
named species of Lampyridae, and
many more to be named and work to
be done to understand what a "species"
really is in nature.

Fireflyer Companion

Paper, continued from page 11

dents, he also presented a large volume
of information of which I could only uti-
lize a small amount. Wing discussed fe-
males of this species, describing them
as "pale, soft bodied, conspicuous, and
relatively slow-moving." He also noted
that Lloyd had pointed out an interest-
ing fact about the species. Males only
spend about 18 minutes per evening
looking for mates, as compared to over
8 hours in some other species, a fact I
find extremely interesting.
A Glitch in the Process (a.k.a.
Where's the Conclusion?). It is at this
point where I ran out of relatively gen-
eral information to include in this paper.
All of the remaining sources I located
were either checked out, too specific,
unsuitable material for this paper, or
couldn't be persuaded to talk for the
meager amount of money I offered
them. Unfortunately, that brings my pa-
per to an abrupt end, an occurrence that
(for me) is rare and upsetting. I do hope,
however, to get a chance in the future
to expound on the ideas presented so
far. Also, I hope that as I learn more
about the interesting insects commonly
known as "the firefly", so that I can edu-
cate my friends and clear up the miscon-
ceptions and misinformation they hold.
(- turn signals, pornography, and glow-
ing eyes? They really do need to be edu-
cated!). [Holly Saigo, U of F]

Editor's Note
There are many reasons for begin-
ning a newsletter. Among ours is the
shared belief that the best things in
life, the stars, the moon, and the fire-
flies ought to be free, and available.
The many phone calls and letters that
we get from children, parents, report-
ers, and editors, asking about fireflies
tell us that there is a "market." A need.
We don't know how long this will last.
It depends on interest, demonstrated
by letters and questions. We will try
for two years as a start. To get a copy
write us a letter at the address given
on page 2. Next time we will note
publication costs, that we ff hermits
pick up this time. Get your penlights
and fishpoles... we go!

Vol. 1, Number 1 Winter 1993-94

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