Lampyridae, the Firefly
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Lampyridae, the Firefly

Despite its name the firefly is not part of the fly family, it is actually a member of the winged beetle family.

Despite its name the firefly is not part of the fly family, it is actually a member of the winged beetle family. The winged beetle family contains more than 2000 different types of beetles that are found worldwide. Unlike many insects, most people like fireflies and are excited to see them flitting round, lighting up a warm summer night.

The size and shape of fireflies vary depending on their species. Some fireflies are only about 5 millimetres long, while others are around 30 millimetres in length. The larger firefly species tend to live in tropical areas, while the smaller types live in colder climates. Their colouration also differs per species; some are a dull brown, while others are a bright green or yellow.

Fireflies differ from other winged beetles in several ways. Most beetles have a hard exoskeleton; fireflies have a soft one. Fireflies are the only winged beetle that can make light. Fireflies produce a chemical that makes them glow or look fiery in the darkness. Their lights are bioluminescent, which means they are created by biological means. The light of the firefly has two purposes, to attract a mate and to warn off predators. The chemical that produces the light is mildly poisonous to some creatures and extremely bad tasting to others. Both male and female fireflies produce light and they use it to attract a mate; different light flashes mean different things.

Despite being mildly toxic and bad tasting, fireflies are still hunted by a variety of creatures. As larva, rodents, insects, reptiles, humans, parasites, and even other larva prey on them. As adults, birds, rodents, bats, reptiles, frogs, insects, spiders, and humans hunt them. There is a couple of types of fireflies that prey on other fireflies; the females of one firefly species will attract males with her light making it look like she is looking for a mate and then kill and devour the unsuspecting suitor.

During the larva stage most fireflies will eat pretty well anything. As adults, some fireflies are carnivores and eat all insects smaller than themselves, while others are herbivores only eating plants and nectar.

Fireflies are unlike almost any other insect as they have earned a special place in the heart of many people. They bring back childhood memories of camping and campfires and chasing fireflies through meadows of knee-deep grass and wild flowers in the early evening. Fireflies are surrounded with an air mystery and magic and were once thought to be Fairies flying through the night. Few insects make us smile the way the firefly does.

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Comments (2)

Great article, I love fireflies. We used to catch them and put them in a glass jar until we had a bunch and they made a firefly lantern. We were good kids, though, and let them go pretty soon.

Fireflies in America pose a severe danger for reptile pets, from lucibufagin toxicosis. Just ONE ingested North American firefly (Photinus ignitus) has enough toxin to kill certain lizards, fish, frogs, etc. The bearded dragon for instance has no innate fear or respect for this unfamiliar insect. In Australia, the local fireflies apparently do not have this toxin, and bearded dragons are not affected.