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This process occurs in specialized light-emitting organs , usually on a firefly's lower abdomen. The enzyme luciferase acts on the luciferin , in the presence of magnesium ions, ATP , and oxygen to produce light. Gene coding for these substances has been inserted into many different organisms see Luciferase — Applications.

Stinky chemical defenses

The genetics of firefly bioluminescence, focusing on luciferase , has been reviewed by John Day. All fireflies glow as larvae. In lampyrid larvae, bioluminescence serves a function that is different from that served in adults. It appears to be a warning signal to predators , since many firefly larvae contain chemicals that are distasteful or toxic. Photic emission in the adult beetle was originally thought to be used for similar warning purposes, but it is now understood that its primary purpose is in mate selection.

It has been shown that early larval bioluminescence was adopted in adult fireflies, and was repeatedly gained and lost before becoming fixed and retained as a mechanism of sexual communication in many species. Flash signaling characteristics include differences in duration, timing, color, and repetition, and vary interspecifically and geographically. Some species, especially lightning bugs of the genera Photinus , Photuris , and Pyractomena , are distinguished by the unique courtship flash patterns emitted by flying males in search of females.

In general, females of the genus Photinus do not fly, but do give a flash response to males of their own species. Tropical fireflies, in particular, in Southeast Asia, routinely synchronise their flashes among large groups. This phenomenon is explained as phase synchronization [18] and spontaneous order. At night along river banks in the Malaysian jungles, fireflies synchronize their light emissions precisely.

Current hypotheses about the causes of this behavior involve diet, social interaction, and altitude.


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In the Philippines, thousands of fireflies can be seen all year-round in the town of Donsol called aninipot or totonbalagon in Bicol. In the United States, one of the most famous sightings of fireflies blinking in unison occurs annually near Elkmont, Tennessee , in the Great Smoky Mountains during the first weeks of June. Female Photuris fireflies are known for mimicking the photic signaling patterns of other fireflies for the sole purpose of predation ; they often prey upon smaller Photinus fireflies.

For this reason, Photuris species are sometimes referred to as " femme fatale fireflies".

Many fireflies do not produce light. Usually these species are diurnal, or day-flying, such as those in the genus Ellychnia. A few diurnal fireflies that inhabit primarily shadowy places, such as beneath tall plants or trees, are luminescent. One such genus is Lucidota. Non-bioluminescent fireflies use pheromones to signal mates.

This is supported by the fact that some basal groups do not show bioluminescence and use chemical signaling, instead. Phosphaenus hemipterus has photic organs, yet is a diurnal firefly and displays large antennae and small eyes. These traits strongly suggest pheromones are used for sexual selection, while photic organs are used for warning signals. In controlled experiments, males coming from downwind arrived at females first, indicating males travel upwind along a pheromone plume.

Males were also found to be able to find females without the use of visual cues, when the sides of test Petri dishes were covered with black tape. This and the facts that females do not light up at night and males are diurnal point to the conclusion that sexual communication in P. Firefly systematics , as with many insects, are in a constant state of flux, as new species continue to be discovered.

The Fireflies | A division of Plugged

The five subfamilies listed above are the most commonly accepted ones, though others, such as the Amydetinae and Psilocladinae, have been proposed. This was mainly done in an attempt to revise the Lampyrinae , which bit by bit had become something of a " wastebin taxon " to hold incertae sedis species and genera of fireflies.

Other changes have been proposed, such as merging the Ototretinae into the Luciolinae , but the arrangement used here appears to be the most frequently seen and stable layout for the time being. Though most groups appear to be monophyletic , some e. Two groups of subfamilies seem to exist: one containing many American and some Eurasian species in the Lampyrinae and Photurinae; and one, predominantly Asian, made up from the other subfamilies. While the subfamilies as understood here are, in general, monophyletic , a few genera still need to be moved for the subfamilies to accurately represent the evolutionary relationships among the fireflies.

The Rhagophthalmidae are a glow-worm-like lineage of Elateroidea.

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They have in the recent past usually been considered a distinct family, but whether this is correct is still disputed. Indeed, they might be the only close relative of the puzzling firefly genus Pterotus , which sometimes is placed in a monotypic subfamily. The genus Phausis , usually placed in the tribe Photinini of the Lampyrinae, might represent another rather distinct lineage instead. Firefly populations are declining worldwide, for a variety of reasons. Finally, since fireflies depend on their own light to reproduce [25] they are also very sensitive to environmental levels of light and consequently to light pollution.

Fireflies are charismatic which is a rare quality amongst insects and are easily spotted by non-experts, providing thus good flagship species to attract public attention; good investigation models for the effects of light on nocturnal wildlife; and finally, due to their sensibility and rapid response to environmental changes, good bioindicators for artificial night lighting.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Family of beetles. This article is about the family of insects. For the television series, see Firefly TV series. For other uses, see Firefly disambiguation. Play media. Further information: Bioluminescence. Retrieved on 22 June Photochemistry and Photobiology. Retrieved 19 July Science Daily 27 June Journal of Asia-Pacific Entomology. Retrieved 22 June Bibcode : PNAS In Meyer-Rochow, V. Bioluminescence in Focus. Research Signpost: Kerala.

January Annual Review of Entomology. December The Florida Entomologist.

10 Fascinating Facts About Fireflies

February Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. March Mathematical Biology. An Introduction 3rd ed. Chicago Tribune. Animal Behaviour. Stuart; Iii; Armesto, Juan J. International SportsTurf Institute, Inc. Roberts and H. Wyman Dorough. Article first published online: 20 Oct Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, Vol. Biota Neotropica.

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Bibcode : Oecol. In other words, per pound, fireflies are brighter than the Sun. Even though bioluminescence is millions of times less efficient than the Sun's fusion-powered glow, the Sun can't afford to be as bright because it has to last billions of times longer. Let's walk through it: The first half—the numerator—is a guess for the ratio between how long the Sun has to keep glowing compared to how long a firefly does. I took a wild guess that fireflies have to light up for a few hours each night for one summer, while the Sun has to last another five billion years.

The second half—the denominator—is a guess as to the ratio between the stored energy in a pound of firefly vs a pound of star. The result should tell us the ratio between a firefly's brightness per pound and the Sun's. And the answer we get says that the fireflies are a few thousand times brighter—which is roughly what we got from working through it the other way! It's true that we got lucky with some of our guesses, but since we made errors in both directions, they tended to cancel out.


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  8. This kind of thing works more often than it seems like it should! But wait! A mass of fireflies that big would run into problems. Besides the obvious problems with gathering that many animals in one place, the fireflies would block each others' light. The inner fireflies would be hidden behind the outer ones, and the total brightness would be limited. After bouncing around a few times, it would be absorbed by neighboring fireflies, which would get warmer. This is sort of like how radiation makes its way out of the Sun's core—but in the case of the fireflies, they'd die from the heat before the process got very far.

    Since the only light that matters is the light at the surface, we could imagine arranging the fireflies in a hollow sphere, with their lanterns pointing outward. Or, to make thing simpler, we could imagine a single giant firefly. How big would it need to be? Such a firefly would immediately collapse under its own weight and become a black hole.