Darting through the night air, creating a scintillating display of wonder with its luminous beauty, the firefly puts on quite a display. And while different to ourselves in many respects, fireflies and humans share a fundamental trait – the males are the main flashers, who cruise at night in search of a female.
Also like their human counterparts, the female firefly will also respond with a favourable blink to a worthy suitor. To detect these blinks, which are often far off, or pulsating amongst any number of firefly signals, the male is equipped with large eyes and a visor for ultra-mating focus.
These famous blinks come from segments located on the underside tip of its abdomen. Here, certain chemicals are released, which react to the presence of oxygen with a blaze of light before they’re soon exhausted. The body then quickly charges in time for the next burst, which produces the distinguished flashing effect.
If one can detect a sense of urgency in the firefly’s flash, it’s because they’re in a hurry to mate due to their short life span. The larvae produced from this hurried courtship, who are luminous from an early age, feed on snails by paralysing them. Adult fireflies, however, are believed not to eat at all.
In order to feed their larvae, fireflies are drawn towards temperate or tropical places, particularly wet, wooded areas such as rainforest where there’s an abundance of food. During the larvae stage, fireflies will hibernate over winter, burrowing underground or hiding under the bark of trees. The larvae will then emerge in spring to feast.
Interestingly, the flash produced by fireflies is a “cold light”, having no ultraviolet or infrared frequencies. This chemically sourced light, which can be yellow, green or pale-red, projects wavelengths from 510 to 670 nanometres.