By June Mathews
Is it just me, or is anybody else seeing an unusually large number of lightning bugs this summer? Often at twilight lately, I’ve seen what looks like about a million glittery little lights blinking around the yard.
And as I watch, I ponder, not for the first time, the possibility of catching a big bunch (or flock or herd or whatever a group of lightning bugs is called) and using their collective illumination as a reading lamp.
Every kid’s book I ever read that involved lightning bugs depicted at least one brightly-lit jarful of the incandescent insects providing enough radiance by which to read, write or do fine needlepoint. Thus I always wanted a lightning bug-powered bedside lamp of my own.
Back in the day, my neighborhood running buddies and I found it great fun to chase lightning bugs around our yards and trap them in empty pickle jars. Aided by older siblings or parents we compassionately poked holes in the jar lids with an icepick and provided our tiny prisoners a few blades of grass for food and furnishings.
No doubt they appreciated the luxury accommodations.
Since lightning bugs tend to meander along as opposed to zipping through the air like a housefly, catching them was no problem, even for a relatively grace-free youngster like me. I remember once accumulating several – probably no more than five or six, but it seemed like a lot at the time – and setting the jar in my room in anticipation of some after-bedtime reading.
An hour or so later, after it had gotten good and dark in the house, I was disappointed to see my fluorescent little friends weren’t providing enough light to spit at, much less illuminate my new copy of Little Women.
Now oddly enough, as much as I’ve always enjoyed seeing lightning bugs dance around on a summer evening, I’ve never been all that curious about them otherwise. But as I watched a host of the sparkly critters flit around the yard a couple of evenings ago, it occurred to me to run an Internet search on lightning bugs.
While I don’t normally write on science-related topics, I thought I’d share a few of my findings:
Often called fireflies, mainly by non-Southerners, lightning bugs are members of the beetle family.
That fact came as a surprise to me. I tend to mentally place beetles in the same category as cockroaches, i.e., creepy crawling bugs, so I guess I’m going to have to adjust my thinking and resist the urge to stomp a lightning bug the next time I see one.
There are about 2,000 – count ‘em, 2,000 – species of lightning bugs.
I can’t begin to imagine why God bothered to make that many versions of something so seemingly insignificant. But I suppose that’s yet another reason why He’s in charge of the world, and I’m not.
Due to development and the accompanying traffic and light pollution we humans produce, lightning bug populations are dwindling.
Experts say, however, that simply by turning off exterior and garden lights at night, we can create an environment in which lightning bugs thrive. Now whether or not that has anything to do with the romance factor of dimmed lighting, I’m not sure. But if turning off a few lights might mean preserving lightning bugs for future generations to enjoy, I’m willing to do it.
Lightning bugs love moisture and humidity.
That goes a long way toward explaining why we’re seeing so many of them this summer. With all the rain we’ve had in our neck of the woods over the past couple of months, it’s a wonder all the lightning bugs on earth haven’t migrated to Alabama.
Come to think of it, the influx of lightning bugs we’re seeing this summer could be the beginning of a mass invasion.
But they’d better think twice before coming too close to the porch where my pickle jar and I are waiting. I’m still pretty determined to have that lightning bug nightlight one day.