The flying, twinkling lights of fireflies are a mystical summer attraction. While lightning bugs are common in nature, there's a few things you might not know about them.
Here are 12 fun and interesting facts about nature's glowing wonder:
1. They are beetles
The name "firefly" is a little misleading. Fireflies are nocturnal members of Lampyridae (which in Greek means "to shine") a family of winged beetles. But "firebeetles" doesn't have the same ring to it. There are more than 2,000 species of fireflies. And only some of those species have the ability to light up (see No. 3).
2. Fireflies are just one type of bioluminescent species
Fireflies are probably one of the more popular of these species, but they're definitely not alone in their ability to light up. Most of their bioluminescent peers live in the ocean so people don't have as much contact with them. Their light is created by a chemical reaction during which oxygen combines with calcium, adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and luciferin with the help of the enzyme luciferase. When they are larvae, fireflies use their bioluminescence to scare off predators.
3. Not all fireflies have the "fire"
Fireflies aren't just abundant in the eastern states, the west has them as well, they just don't light up over there. Those who don't produce light are usually most active during the day. Non-bioluminescent fireflies use pheromones to attract mates.
4. Scientists discovered luciferase because of fireflies
When it was first discovered, the only way to obtain the chemical was to extract it from fireflies themselves. Eventually, scientists figured out how to create synthetic luciferase. Some people still collect the enzyme from the flying lanterns. Luciferase is used in scientific research for food safety testing and some forensic tests.
5. Fireflies are energy efficient
Fireflies' lights are the most efficient lights in the world. One-hundred percent of the energy created is emitted through the light. In comparison, an incandescent bulb emits 10 percent of its energy as light and a fluorescent bulb emits 90 percent of its energy through light. Fireflies' efficiency is partly do to luciferin's heat resistant properties.
6. Their light shows are mating acts
Most of the fireflies flying around are males looking for a mate. Each species has a specific light pattern that they use to communicate with each other. Once a female spots a male she likes, she will respond with the same light pattern. Usually females are perched on plants, waiting for a mate.
7. Some species synchronize their flashing
Scientists aren't sure why fireflies do this, but some theories include competition or to make them more noticeable. If a bunch of male fireflies are flashing the pattern at the same time, they are more likely to attract females. The only species of fireflies in America that do this are the Photinus carolinus. They live in the Great Smoky Mountains and the U.S. National Park Service organizes watch parties for the shows.
8. Not all firefly light looks the same
Each species has their own specific color of light they produce. Some glow blue or green while others glow orange or yellow.
9. They taste disgusting
Unlike cicadas, these summer bugs should not be cooked, baked or grilled. If you do try to eat a firefly, it will probably taste bitter. The beetles can even be poisonous to some animals. When fireflies are attacked, they shed drops of blood. The blood contains chemicals that create the bitter taste and poison. Most animals have learned this and avoid munching on fireflies.
10. Fireflies sometimes practice cannibalism
When fireflies are still in the larvae stage, they snack on snails. Usually as they mature, they move away from meat. Scientists believe adult fireflies live off of nectar and pollen or they don't eat at all. But others, especially the Photuris fireflies enjoy their own kind. Photuris females often eat males of other genera. They attract the unsuspecting males by mimicking their light pattern.
11. Their numbers are declining
There are several reasons why firefly populations are declining, including climate change and the harvesting of luciferase from them (see No. 4), light pollution and habitat destruction. When firefly habitats are destroyed for roads or other construction, they don't migrate to a new spot, they simply disappear.
12. Enjoying the light show in your yard can help scientists
Your observations can help scientists learn more about fireflies and why they're disappearing. Enjoy the show and help save the insect at the same time.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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