Firefly season is here. Every year about May or June, people start looking for information on fireflies, or “lightning bugs” as we commonly call them here in the South.
What it is about fireflies that seems to capture the imagination and make people want to understand them. Sure, kids are fascinated, but they are kids. It doesn’t take much to amuse a child.
All of us who grew up where fireflies were plentiful remember running barefoot through the cool grass, chasing the glowing bugs and catching them with our bare hands. Nothing was more thrilling than a jar full of captive sparkling lighting bugs. We were fascinated. We longed to save the beauty forever and hold it in our glass jar, traditionally with holes punched in the top for air.
We sometimes mutilated the bugs looking for the secret to the flash, but were never able to find it. Alas, when night became day, the fireflies were nothing but ugly bugs. We dumped them in disgust. Yet, we would return the next night to try again. Chasing and capturing the fairylike creatures of the night was a summer passtime for children.
Perhaps it is the memories that cause adults to return to look for firefly information, to seek to understand what was not understandable, but remained a source of wonder. Science can explain what we could only ponder about in our childish ways: a mixture of luciferin and luciferase, a chemical reaction between the two, a flash controlled by abdominal muscles.
Our adult mind seeks to comprehend all this, but our heart knows that they are magic! No, we no longer believe in magic because we are adults now and know that there is no such thing. Everything has an explanation and a reason. But the heart of hearts can still wish that it were so.
Here in Tennessee the lightning bugs have appeared. They seemed somewhat earlier this year than normal, perhaps because an unusually warm spring aided with the hatching of the glowworms and the maturing of the fireflies, who are actually beetles with two pairs of wings and not flies at all.
Now that I am older and wiser, I’ve learned that there are hundreds of species of fireflies and several can often be seen together. I’ve learned that moisture is what is needed to keep them alive, not air holes in the top of a jar. I’ve traveled and studied them and read articles, though I’ll freely admit that bugs are not really my forte.
In the western United States, fireflies are rarely, if ever, seen. It is difficult to imagine a warm summer night with no fireflies, California children growing up without the fireflies to light their way to maturity. In most of the states east of Kansas, however, their flashing dance brings joy to even the most seasoned cynic.
The firefly season is here. Take a moment to watch, to smile, to enjoy the simple pleasures. It is but a season, and like childhood, like life and like magic, it will soon be gone.