Monday, June 26, 2017

FIREFLIES

A few nights ago as I watched television, I glanced through the open blinds on the French doors and saw pinpoints of lights glowing near the back porch. Aliens landing? A reflection from the television screen? No, the tiny flashes were fireflies! Memories of summer nights in my childhood flooded my mind. I hadn’t seen “lightning bugs” in years, and I had the impulse to fetch a jar from the kitchen and begin collecting them as I had done when I was a child.

I’m not wrong in supposing that fireflies, like many insects, birds, and plants, have been disappearing from forests, fields, and marshes throughout the world, particularly in humid, warm locales near water. Research shows that fireflies once populated these areas in such numbers that people profited from sponsoring firefly tours. However, pollution, pesticides, logging, and development of waterways have contributed to the demise of these magical beetles that once lit up summer nights. Even light that streams from our homes and streets have taken over the night and disturb the fireflies’ flashing patterns.

I’ll miss the light show of these winged beetles that still takes place in the Great Smokies National Park of Appalachia in late June. We visited there only a few weeks ago but the show wasn’t scheduled during our stay. According to The Week magazine, this particular species of lightning bugs that frequent a hardwood forest in the Smokies are synchronous and blink in unison during their mating ritual… but the ritual ends with their death. Sightseers visit the area in hordes to see the luminescent show. In southeast Asia, tropical fireflies also precisely synchronize their flashing. A few unlighted lightning bugs use only pheromones to signal their mates, but most species use bioluminescence to do their courting.

Those who have poignant memories of lightning bugs flashing in the summer nights of their youth can contribute to their “lastingness” by avoiding the use of pesticides in the yard, by leaving old logs near their homes intact, by not mowing often as the bugs love long grass, and instead of leaving the blinds on doors open at night, close them so the fireflies aren’t confused by human lighting devices and fail to attract mates.

Robert Frost was evidently fascinated with fireflies and wrote a wry verse about “Fireflies in the Garden:”*

“Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And were they ever really stars at heart?)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can’t sustain the part.”

P.S. If you see fireflies in the night and have an impulse to get a jar and start collecting, don’t forget to let them out the following day.

  • quote from The Poetry Foundation


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