As a child, I held a small interest in insects. Sure, I did my fair share of dissecting ants, and by dissecting I mean pulling off the occasional leg and separating them between their thorax and abdomen. Mind you, this was not an obsession, so don’t start raising flags. Just childhood fascination.
I also rolled up hundreds of pill bugs (roly-polies) and may have, again only occasionally, strategically placed them in inconspicuous spots, like under my sister’s pillow or in her clothes drawers.
Just as an aside, I was never really afraid of spiders, but I’ll will get creeped-out by grasshoppers (especially those large ones that fly).
But I was never lucky enough to see fireflies until I moved to New York in my 20s. In and around the Ithaca area, you would start to see them in early to midsummer. Walking the fields around the creek near the farm where I was conducting my research, you could see their luminescence dart among the trees and wetland plants.
It was never enough that you would say, “Whoa, there’s an explosion of fireflies,” but they sure did add to the dusk-time sky. Had I possessed a glass jar, I may have chased a couple. Perhaps an experience like that may have changed my affinity toward our six- and eight-legged brethren.
Despite their name, fireflies (Photuris spp.) are not flies, but are instead a relatively soft-winged beetle. Dark gray or brown in color, most species are small, ranging in size from 10 to 15 millimeters. And their presence in Colorado can only be described as extremely localized. They are typically found in wetland areas that are well-shaded by some of our larger deciduous trees, such as cottonwoods.
Because of their affinity for wetlands, one can only assume that their distribution has changed. Drainage of these wetland areas could exterminate some populations, whereas new wetland development or irrigation may provide new habitats. Fireflies become more active as the temperatures rise and the frosty evenings become more rare – typically, in the month of June.
What makes fireflies so unique, obviously, is that they can produce their own light. This chemical reaction, called bioluminescence, typically occurs on the insect’s lower abdomen. It is a complex process where the insect produces a compound called luciferin, which in turn combines with the enzyme luciferase. The addition of oxygen, ATP (adenosine triphosphate – essentially energy) and water creates the light.
Phew. You thought insects were simple creatures.
Best of all, its sole purpose is for mating. The male will indicate his presence by repeatedly turning his blinker on and off, while the female, if interested, will respond with a series of single or multiple flashes of her own. This continues until the two species, who need to make sure they are of the same species, find each other, and well, the rest is private.
If only the dating scene at El Rancho was this easy.
While fireflies do exist in La Plata County, their presence is quite rare, and for those landowners who may have a colony of fireflies, their presence also may be a well-kept secret.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6464. Darrin Parmenter is director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office.