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Those Twinkling Lights Are A Second Wave Of Fireflies

Molly Keck

It's a week away from fall, but don’t tell that to the lightning bugs.  The fireflies are here now and they’re sneakier than they may seem.

Molly Keck, an entomologist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, says it’s very unusual to see a second wave of lightning bugs this late in the summer.

"If you think about it, we had pretty good rain for two springs in a row, 2016 and ’15, and that gave us so many in the early summer and maybe allowed us to—either it’s a second generation, or maybe it’s another species that’s coming out later," she says. "The moisture allows the eggs not to dry out, and so when it rains a lot they stay nice and moist and you have more hatching out."

Lightning bugs have gotten a bad rap in some parts that they serve no ecological function. The myth is that nothing eats them. Keck says it is true that they have a toxin in them which makes them bitter, but she says some things do eat them. Keck says they serve a greater ecological function by what they eat, including insects considered pests.

"They eat other insects," Keck says. "Some species actually eat other larvae of other lightning bugs. So they’re neat. They flash and trick other species of lightning bugs to think it’s them and then they eat ‘em when they catch them."

But they don’t just trick ‘em any which way. Keck says each species has its own flash pattern for attracting a mate. The firefly will mimic the other species flash in just that way attracting the opposite sex…and then 'BAM' they got dinner.

Keck says if you want to see lightning bugs, the best place to look is somewhere where there’s dense vegetation and forest and a clearing.

Louisa Jonas is an independent public radio producer, environmental writer, and radio production teacher based in Baltimore. She is thrilled to have been a PRX STEM Story Project recipient for which she produced a piece about periodical cicadas. Her work includes documentaries about spawning horseshoe crabs and migratory shorebirds aired on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered. Louisa previously worked as the podcast producer at WYPR 88.1FM in Baltimore. There she created and produced two documentary podcast series: Natural Maryland and Ascending: Baltimore School for the Arts. The Nature Conservancy selected her documentaries for their podcast Nature Stories. She has also produced for the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s Distillations Podcast. Louisa is editor of the book Backyard Carolina: Two Decades of Public Radio Commentary. She holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her training also includes journalism fellowships from the Science Literacy Project and the Knight Digital Media Center, both in Berkeley, CA. Most recently she received a journalism fellowship through Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution where she traveled to Toolik Field Station in Arctic Alaska to study climate change. In addition to her work as an independent producer, she teaches radio production classes at Howard Community College to a great group of budding journalists. She has worked as an environmental educator and canoe instructor but has yet to convince a great blue heron to squawk for her microphone…she remains undeterred.