Outdoor Education: Have a Chat With a Firefly

Outdoor Education: Have a Chat
With a Firefly

Dick Moss, Editor, PE Update.com

Fireflies (or lightning bugs) are bioluminescent—a term referring to a living organism that produces light. A chemical reaction in their tail produces the light, and fireflies make it blink by turning the reaction on and off. They‘re born with this ability — in fact, even firefly eggs glow, although they don't blink.

Firefly Signals
If you watch closely, you'll see that the blinking is in fact a signal, almost like Morse code. Each of North America's 50 species of fireflies has its own signal, used to attract a mate. Usually, the male flashes while flying, and the female remains stationary and hopes to attract a male while blinking away on a leaf or blade of grass. Once they mate, the female lays her eggs and both adults die.

Talk to the Fireflies
If you have a flashlight, you can talk to fireflies. Watch for one that appears to be moving, then try to decipher its signal, watching for its specific pattern of flashes. Each complete signal might comprise from three to seven blinks in a specific rhythm. It will then be repeated.

Once you've determined the pattern, duplicate it with your flashlight, aiming at a stationary spot. With luck, the male firefly will be tricked by your signal and approach you, hoping you‘re a prospective mate.

1. Jane Drake & Ann Love, The Kids Campfire Book, Kids Can Press Ltd., 1996.
2. Firefly (Lightning Bug), National Geographic.com

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