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Just Outside My Door 07/26/12

August 1, 2012
By ELAINE G. COLE - COLUMNIST ( , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

We had some much needed rain last Thursday afternoon and the thermometer dropped to the 70's. It was great to have a break from the heat and humidity. More rain was predicted for another day or two. Hopefully we will get it. I'm sure the farmers and gardeners will be grateful to have more rain to aid their harvest. Our area has not been as dry as many states are experiencing, but lawns are beginning to dry out some. Ours is getting some brown spots.

Although I don't like the summer heat, I greatly enjoy the early mornings and evenings. A week or so ago I went outside after dark to water my hanging baskets. A beautiful moon splayed its glow over the land and thousands of stars twinkled overhead. It's amazing to think how God calls them all by name, but it says so in God's word, Isaiah 40:26. In fact He created all the heavenly bodies as well as everything in the world including man.

I saw lights in the neighbor's house and far up the road I saw the lights of an Amish buggy though I didn't hear it yet. Long dark tree shadows spread across the yard and the tiny firefly lights flickered on and off in the meadow. They reminded me of the days when our kids loved catching them in a jar. Did you know if one filled a jar with those fascinating little bugs it would light your way in the dark?

Fireflies can be found lighting up the velvet of summer night from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and southern Canada to deep into the tropics. They cannot be unless conditions are right. The temperature must be high enough and the light dim enough for them to light their lanterns.

Thomas Say, a naturalist from Indiana, named the firefly in 1824. It is not a fly, but a soft-bodied beetle. It produces light in special cells located near the end of its abdomen. It is about 75 inches long, mostly black with two red spots on the head cover. The wing covers and head covers are lined in yellow. It has six jointed legs, two antennae, compound eyes and a body divided into three parts including the head, thorax and abdomen.

Fireflies are meat-eaters. They also eat insect larvae and snails. It's light is a complex chemical reaction resulting from the oxidation of a substance called loitering. The length of the flash is determined by controlling the flow of oxygen into their light producing organs. The firefly can control its glowing effect and its brightness is 1/40 of a candle. It uses its light to attract mates. The majority of ones we see flashing at night are males trying to impress females who are sitting on low vegetation. The flashing pattern involves a series of short or long bursts of light in patterns similar to the Morse code. If a female is receptive she answers with her flash. There are over 30 species of lighting bug fireflies and all of them have its own unique flash pattern.

The female fireflies lay 200 eggs in moist soil after it mates. The larvae feed on soft-bodied insects, slugs and snails. By late summer they have functional lights, but they stay on all the time. That's why the firefly is often called the glow-worm.

In winter fireflies are in the form of larvae and pupate in spring. Scientist have been interested in the chemistry of the firefly light for years arriving with a conclusion it can be used for several medicinal purposes.

Poets have often written about fireflies and James Whitcomb Riley wrote, "And fireflies like golden seeds are sown about the night." It's not surprising the Houser poet wrote about it because the firefly is Indiana's state insect.



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