Monday, July 29, 2013

Glowing in the Dark


I got a real surprise a few weeks back when my friends Cora Lee and Mac invited me out to their house near a lake for, as they said, dinner and a little surprise. 

The little surprise didn’t show up until it got dark, but it was worth the wait.  It seems this wet summer in Tassanoxie has gifted us with more than mildew. It’s also given us lightning bugs.

When I saw them blinking among the trees by the lake, I realized how tied into summer evenings and forgotten memories they are. And how long it’d been since I’d seen any. Part of that is probably because I’m not much of a porch sitter these days. With so many electronic devices to steal my time, I’m not often out after dark.

But lightning bugs aren’t either. 

I know, you’d think they would be, but after seeing them that night I got curious about what’s happening to them. Sad to say, they’re yet another species we’re losing. Yep. Lightning bugs, or fireflies as they call them up North, are losing out to things like light pollution. And this dilemma is not a problem for USA lightning bugs, it’s a problem for this type of insect worldwide.

These bugs use something called bioluminescence (or what I call blinking on and off) to attract mates and communicate with each other. I think it’s also what attracts human to them. I mean, who doesn’t like to watch them blink like tiny Christmas tree lights in the trees?  

Lightning bugs are vanishing because humans are messing up their routine. All those lights we turn on at night interrupt their signals and make it hard for them to communicate. And we stick lights up everywhere: streetlights, car lights, house lights, business signs, yard lights. You name it, we light it up. 

If lightning bugs can’t signal each other, they can’t find mates which means fewer baby lightning bugs to carry on the species the next year.

If you want to help lightning bugs find true love, turn off outside lights, like garden lights. Closing curtains at night also helps to keep your yard lightning bug friendly.

I feel guilty now about the lightning bugs we captured and put into jars when I was a kid. It makes me sad to think there might soon be a world with no lightning bugs. Truth is, much as I love cell phones, lighting up the night with them just doesn’t have the same magical feeling.