Clover Corner

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Natural fireworks

The middle of June has come and gone, just like that. Before you know it we will be celebrating America’s birthday on the Fourth of July. Today I have a guest writer, Beth Doran, who is the beef specialist and master gardener with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach talking about “natural fireworks.”

I enjoy fireworks displays at the Fourth of July and other celebrations, but nothing can compare to the natural fireworks of fireflies in the summer. Just about dusk, thousands of fireflies will grace Iowa’s fields and pastures. If you have never seen this, take an evening stroll to view the best of nature’s beauty.

Fireflies are harmless to humans and are actually “good” insects. The adult firefly contains luciferin and luciferase, two rare chemicals used in research for cancer, multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis and heart disease. The firefly larvae are specialized predators that feed on other insect larvae, snails and slugs. Adult fireflies usually live off of nectar and pollen.

The adults that we view live only one to two weeks. Of the 124 species of fireflies, each has a distinctive pattern of flashes. The flashes vary in number, duration, interval between flashes, motion during the flash and height of the flash above ground. Males and females recognize their own species flash, and the male firefly uses this as a means of courtship.

Fireflies are not actually flies at all. They are winged beetles. Their lifecycle consists of four stages — egg, larvae, pupa and adult. Once the fireflies have mated, the female lays her eggs in moist places. The eggs hatch and develop into larvae which feed until the end of summer. These larvae will overwinter in the soil and emerge in the spring to feed. In early summer, they will complete the pupa stage and emerge as fireflies. The light from fireflies is the most efficient light in the world. It is referred to as “cold” light, meaning that very little heat is produced when their light is emitted.

There is growing concern about the decline of fireflies. Urban sprawl may be one contributing factor. If an area where fireflies live is paved over, the fireflies don’t migrate to another field; they just disappear forever. Also, city lights have been implicated in their decline. Homeowners are encouraged to retain natural areas and limit the use of artificial lights.

So as summer approaches, take an hour to sit in your lawn chair, sip an iced tea and enjoy the magic of the firefly light show. It may be short, but it is truly spectacular.