The Dance Of Fireflies
Let there be light to lighten up the forest paths, let there be light to just enjoy them more, let there be light.
Just like Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe once rather imperiously uttered such words as “More light!” I shall be asking for more light just now, yet a whole different kind of light, one coming from nature and which carries with it magical tones.
As Rabindranath Tagore once said “The fireflies, twinkling among leaves, / make the stars wonder.” As light vanishes from the summer sky, an entire cavalry of male fireflies wakes up from its daytime lethargy. One by one they attack the blades of glass, practically marching towards them, waiting for just the perfect time to launch themselves up like tiny helicopters into the night. Yet, contrary to what would urge us humans to do such a thing, these tiny helicopters have no thought of war whatsoever but instead let themselves guided by more “evolutionary goals”, goals of survival. Though many of us would tend to think that in their lighted pilgrimages into the night fireflies “are bent on military conquest”, they come to amaze us and prove that we are wrong. They come to be just mere flying lanterns, playing their own dance in the darkness of the night.
If we were to listen to what people said before us we would probably end up saying just like someone once said when trying to define life “What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” The part that interests me most is the one bringing forth the name of the firefly and its flash in the night. I do plan to develop it all now and while calling upon more light ask the rather enchanting firefly to enlighten my way and captivate us with its rather mesmerizing, magical presence.
It is these “specks of living light twinkling in the dark” like Rabindranath Tagore said that have always fascinated me, yet it was only later on that I did manage to see more in them than just a play of lights. Indeed the play of lights comes to be nevertheless an amazing one, one dignified to compete with any other luxurious light, yet scientists managed to discover that beneath all that lighting struggle there hides an amazing beetle, a special, unique one though.
And since I brought in the name of beetle I may as well enlighten you. Though having the word flies in their name, fireflies are in fact no flies, but beetles, belonging to a family known under the name of Lampyridae. By deciding to take a close look into their world, entomologists are said to have discovered and describe just about 2000 firefly species worldwide. Yet, not all these species flash their light in the darkness of the night, because as proven, among them there happen to also be some species that lack that light, in other words non-luminescent, species that most often happen to be classified as being diurnal, therefore preferring the day to the night, as well as “species that merely glow rather than flash”. It could thus be stated without being mistaken, that the world of fireflies in itself happens to be a quite wide and varied one.
It all starts at dusk’s fading light, a fading light that seems to be just the right thing to propel them into the game of courtship, because whether you know it or not, all those flashes of light are just meant to make “kneel” the lady firefly of one’s dreams. Amazingly enough Nature did find one more time a way to amaze us, this time by providing man with “living flashlights.”
Yet, these “living flashlights” as many have referred to them this way, happen to be using light for a whole myriad of purposes. They may be using light to talk to each other or they may equally well just make use of it to warn any possible predators away and thus to be able to call themselves just excellent guards, defenders of their territory, no matter which this one happens to be. Yet, in some species there seems to have been made a certain discrimination between sexes, in matters of light at least. In these species, it has been noticed that only one of the two, either the male or the female possesses the “gift” of lighting up. Yet, as Nature probably did not wish to make start a firefly war, it made sure that in most firefly species both the female and the male firefly would glow. As for the female firefly, this one would mostly be spotted waiting in grasses, shrubs and sometimes even trees, whereas the male gets to flash at ladies. Just picture a lady sitting at a bar, all dressed up and sipping gracefully from her drink, probably waiting to be noticed by some attractive looking guy. In the world of fireflies though, the ones picking attractive males happen to be lying in the grass instead of sitting at a bar.
In the kingdom of fireflies, light serves as a means of communication, much like words do in our case. When flashing up their light, turning it on and off, a firefly in fact just tries to carry on its dialogue with a fellow girl firefly, a dialogue known only by them though, because so far we haven’t been able to decipher what they are actually saying to each other. Yet, I guess some imagination would solve this matter too, bringing in a much expected and anticipated by some answer. We all know by now that when a man wishes to address his lady friend, he has a whole variety of means to approach her, starting with the rather inappropriate “Hey you!” and continuing with an admiring, appreciative whistle or just some eyebrows movements meant to impress her. Yet, I guess he could equally well choose to ask that girl a simple question and thus attempt to initiate a dialogue. It all depends on the category of men we are dealing with and equally well the category of ladies being approached. But since men are out of topic or equation right now, I shall return to fireflies. These ones choose to communicate with their girls by making use of “golden signals”, turning on and off their light and equally well depending on how well they do this turning on or “off” their girl firefly. Quite a funny, yet hard job for the poor male firefly, don’t you think so?
I guess so, since if it were for us to consider that some species of fireflies present in nature these days give away every night of their rather short adult lives to performing their courtship rituals, first executing their light dances and afterwards once he received the much looked for answer from a lady firefly, he decides to land and continue his “search” “on foot”. At least this is what I managed to read somewhere and as I happened to find it rather amusing and worth being staged, I decided to share it with you too. Yet, if you tend to think that all is needed to conquer the heart of a lady firefly is just a flash of light then scientific evidences come to prove that you happen to be most definitely and undeniably wrong. I say this because as far as I managed to read “the flash dialogues continue, often lasting more than an hour”. Therefore it could be stated that a real show of light, flashing, twinkling lights this time, takes place in nature once the light of Nature turn off.
Yet, since there comes to be talk about a show, and a free one too since nature does not demand a single dime for this show, I guess you may as well wish to know where to look for it. Well, fortunately fireflies are to be found on almost every continent. Yet, when it comes to preferences, rumor has it that they prefer dwelling in humid, warm areas. This is the reason why they would call temperate as well as tropical regions their home, yet they would certainly not call Antarctica home. And as they happen to need “a moist environment” to get to next day, they will often stage their light performances in such places as forests, marshes and even fields, yet they may as well look for the vicinity of a river, or a pond, or a lake, and sometimes even a stream.
So far we had it clear that fireflies like moist and that they enjoy spending their time in the dark, being what many refer to as creatures of the night. They certainly come to enjoy darkness and night too (at least some of the species) and they probably do it just because they have the means to do this, meaning a “lantern” they always carry with them. What’s the use of being afraid of darkness when they possess a whole internal system to turn on and off the light? Yet, while dwelling in the night, it comes to be normal for them to organize all their businesses out there in the dark. And it is precisely this aspect that makes things a little harder for Mr. Firefly. If mosquitoes heavily rely on their well known buzzing of their wings, many moths make use of a pheromones, some sort of a perfume to set a trap to any possible mates and if crickets above all, those artists making nature their stage, try to impress their ladies by playing them a serenade, fireflies have as their only courtship weapon their flashing lights. I guess it could be stated that they make darkness their friend and nature their ally.
As James Russel Lowell once said “The fireflies o’er the meadow / In pulses come and go”. Yet, one may as well be interested in discovering the reasons why fireflies share “the light” with us, or in other words why they glow like they do in the darkness of the night. The first reason hides some courtship purposes, the second brings in the need to tell the other birds and insects that they happen to be no delicious, tasty meal and that as such they should be ignored. The third reason that comes to explain their entire performance in nature, a magnificent show of lights indeed, brings in the need to warn brothers and sisters of any approaching danger. If you happened to ever see a firefly being caught in the web of a spider you probably know what I mean. I know I witnessed once such a scene, one which had no other director but nature; while in the very middle of nature I know I managed to catch a firefly, one which after a while I did release it back to the nature to which it belonged. An two met, the spider welcomed the firefly into its “sticky filament” and started wrapping the poor firefly in its ingeniously knitted web. Yet, when the first flash occurred, the spider halted at once. And after pausing it for a while as if saying to itself “Oh my god! Someone set fire to my house!” Mr. Spider liberated the firefly. That poor firefly, once caught in the web of a spider starts glowing brightly. Yet, fireflies almost never cease to amaze us since it has been discovered that when being stressed (they too can get stressed, much like us, yet most probably experiencing stress in a whole different way) their light reaches a more intense glow. The slightest thunder or even a firecracker may disturb their silence and thus may even “cause a field of fireflies to flash in unison”. They get to be disturbed and we get to witness a nevertheless amazing, captivating show of light.
Yet, did you know that incredibly enough even the light emitted by these fireflies gets to display different colors as well? The color of the light may be either yellow, amber or sometimes even green. Amazingly enough fireflies seem to be very much organized and they choose to display light signals at well chosen intervals. Depending on the family to which the respective firefly belongs, on whether it happens to be a male or a female, the flashes of light may vary. However what gets to be certain is the fact that if the answer fails to arrive at the proper time, meaning either too soon or too early, the firefly emitting the light will ignore it. It looks very much like a dance of lights, a dance in which if one of the lights fails to synchronize with the other light, the dance gets to be a disaster and it could be said that it fails.
There is even a joke related to the light they emit, a joke which brings in a question and a rather funny answer. Here it is the joke: Do you happen to know why did the firefly get bad grades in school? The answer comes to surprise and amuse many of us. It is said that such things happen because “He wasn’t very bright!” Once these things being said I could as well say that though we get to be nevertheless ecstatic when witnessing the spectacle offered by a whole army of flashing fireflies on a meadow, and though such a picture may seem quite romantic and peaceful to many of those watching it, to fireflies it just happens to be the beginning of a working “day”. The courtship dance or race as you may call it, it’s just about to begin!
Sometimes, fireflies may choose to start flashing all at once. The rhythmic blinking of a tree of fireflies gets to be a nevertheless magnificent image. It may look to many as if fireflies just started playing with the lights, switching them on and off. Though it is not clear why they do this, they do it. It has been said that they may be doing this probably just looking to be the first ones to impress the ladies sitting gracefully on the blades of grass. Others have stated that they may as well be doing this just to “send a strong signal that will attract the females even from quite far away to their resident tree.” To make a joke I could say that much like hip-hoppers start jumping all at once, something that may sound very much like “All jump with me now!”, fireflies seem to be saying “All together now! Brothers into courtship!”
No matter if they choose to flash all at once or rather lonely, whenever we come across them, they appear to be similar to some “little light bulbs that float in the air, blinking to inaudible music and captivating our eyes with mystique and wonder.” Or they may end up being deemed as some rather strange creations of Nature, much like Ogden Nash portrayed them in his poem entitled The Firefly “The firefly’s flame / Is something for which science has no name / I can think of nothing eerier / Than flying around with an unidentified glow on a / person’s posteerier.”
Yet, the mystery of the light gets to be elucidated by taking a close look in the vast yard of fireflies. Did you know for example that it has often been stated that firefly lights get to be the most efficient lights in the world? It has often been stated that this light gets to be a so called “cold light”, a light that “produces no heat”. In fact the firefly hosts within its body some sort of a fireplace, yet this time one propagating around it a rather cold light. They get to be those living flashlights, which once they have “absorbed” oxygen they carefully combine it in their inner lab with a substance called luciferin and this is actually how that “cold light” comes into being. This process gets to be known under the name of bioluminescence and it could be said rather funnily that apart from all those complicated internal processes taking place within a firefly, when joking one could equally well state that fireflies might have swallowed a lantern and now that lantern switches on and off at certain time intervals.
Their language gets to be a language of light, their floating in the air gets to be a dance of light, light surrounds them, embraces them from the early stage of larvae and up to adulthood and later on into vanishing; it could thus be stated that these creatures of the night get to have replaced darkness with light, colorful light, amazing light, life bringing light. Fireflies are indeed amazing creatures, creatures which unfortunately happen to be facing disappearance. It all happens because in many places of this world darkness, natural darkness came to be replaced by artificial illumination. The magic once known by rural areas started being lost when artificial light came to lighten up the paths once lightened by moon and stars only. It is precisely too much light that prevents their appearance and eventually leads to a disrupting of the game of mating, this getting to further on translate into fewer fireflies being born each year. If they get to disappear it would be like a part of the magic of many of the places we got to know as being magnificent and to a certain extent sharing an almost unreal and unspoiled beauty, would disappear. And there is nothing that could harm us in these creatures as they happen to have no pincers, they are not animated by any conquest desire, they don’t attack, they happen to be rather slow flying creatures, not being poisonous and not even biting and they are said not to need any food whatsoever in their short lives as adults. Therefore, they are just excellent living lightning creatures, performing a rather intricate and complex dance sequence while floating in the air of the night.
And while we leave them going on with their floating lighting dance we may as well end up asking ourselves or a firefly as the case may be, what C. J. Heck poetically asked by means of the poem addressed “To a Baby Butterfly”: “Little baby butterfly / When your night is through / does your mommy tuck you in / And tell you she loves you? / Does she kiss your forehead / and say in morning’s light… / ‘Day-day little sleepyhead, / close your eyes, put out your light.’ “
And much as the firefly puts out its light when facing the dawn of a new day, I may as well pull off the light and call it a day for today. Yet, I will not switch the light off before sharing with you a joke that is connected with the subject of departure and saying good-bye. Here it is, the joke that is meant to make you smile and carry the light of fireflies in the dark with you, before darkness gets to settle upon this article as well: Do you by any means know what a firefly chooses to say to another firefly before deciding to leave? “Bye! I’m glowing now!” Therefore, much like the firefly from this joke I get to say to each and everyone of you “Bye! I’m glowing now!” Yet, I shall add to this: “Where is the red carpet?”11