NEBRASKAland June 2016

NEBRASKAland Magazine is dedicated to outstanding photography and informative writing with an engaging mix of articles and photos highlighting Nebraska’s outdoor activities, parklands, wildlife, history and people.

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16 NEBRASKAland • JUNE 2016 Fireflies By Paula Hoppe The show is about to begin. Wait for it – the first twinkle far in the distance drifting across the landscape. At first there are only a few glimmering points floating in the cooling air, but as the darkness grows around us the lights brighten, and we are witness to a beautiful mating dance. The dance of the fireflies. What we may not realize is that the characters on this moonlit stage have been waiting to perform for almost a year. They begin as eggs, usually deposited in moist soil or leaf litter. The larvae, which have light organs on their abdomen similar to those of the adults, will hatch in three to four weeks and begin to feast and grow. They hunt at night, eating slugs, snails, worms and other insects until winter, when they hibernate in the larval stage. In late spring, emerging larvae feed briefly before pupating and transforming into adult fireflies. • Fireflies, or lightning bugs, are actually beetles. • A chemical reaction from the light organ on the fireflies' abdomen produces a very efficient "cold light" using a substance called luciferin. Besides causing them to glow, it also protects them from predators by virtue of its foul taste. • Different firefly species produce different colored light – yellow, green, or even pale red – and also have unique flash patterns. The firefly seen most often in Nebraska is the common eastern firefly; its light is a yellow/ green color. It flashes brightly, then flies up and forward as the light fades. • About 45 minutes after sunset, males begin looking for mates by flying over vegetation and flashing in flight. Females, lying in wait on vegetation below, signal when they recognize a male of their own species. So when the sun sets on our summer days, look to the fields and watch the dance begin. The light fades as the sun sends its rays of farewell arcing into the sky. The curtain of darkness rises, and the meadows and backyards of the plains set the stage. This is their moment. This is their dance. ■ PHOTO COURTESY OF FIREFLY.ORG PHOT PHOT PHOT PHOTO CO O CO O CO O COURTE URTE URTE URTESY O SY O SY O SY OF FI F FI F FI F FIREFL REFL REFL REFLY.OR Y OR Y OR Y ORG

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