Monday, May 20, 2024

Exploring the Western NY Wilds: Fireflies without the fire

If when you were a kid – or the parent of a kid – you caught a firefly, you are familiar with how they look up close when not glowing.

So, it may come as a surprise — even a frustration as you pine for that remarkable sight of summer nights — in April and May when you see fireflies crawling about during the day but don’t see any glowing at night.

The lack of that nighttime glow amid the presence of countless fireflies is the outcome of specific species’ life cycle and characteristics. The beetles you’re seeing now are known as winter fireflies. They are called that because they overwinter as adults — and very well at that, surviving some intense cold snaps — and they can be seen moving around during warmer days of winter (temps in the forties-plus). They become really active in April when they start searching for mates.

The baby fireflies, which are crawling larvae, hatch in June and are what we know and see as “glowworms”. Typically during the last two weeks of August and right through September, you might catch their very faint glow on the ground if you are walking around your lawn or a forest at night. That faint glow is nowhere near as intense as their flying, glowing cousins, but, the bioluminescence is a sight to see nonetheless….there’s some amazing, even a little disconcerting, about glowing ground. Once these insects go from the pupal stage to adulthood they will glow one last time, just for a few hours, then they are done shining for good.  

Winter fireflies are long-lived. They will be larvae for as long as 16 months and adults for up to 2 years! They survive our sometimes frigid winter months by congregating in the furrows of tree bark, under loose bark, or in the cracks and crevices of your home’s siding. They can sometimes be a pest when they frequent taps in sugar maple trees to feast on the sap – they often end up in the buckets which is why to some they are known as “bucket beetles”.

These fireflies aren’t glowing now, but be sure to pay attention to their little babies at the end of summer. They are abundant here in Allegany County and some areas of WNY certainly can’t claim the same.  

As the song goes: Shine little glow-worm, glimmer, glimmer. Light the path below, above, and lead us on to love!

From the 09 May 2024 Wellsville Sun

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