The Insect That Creates Its Own Lightshow | Science | Smithsonian
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The Insect That Creates Its Own Lightshow

There are about 2,000 species of fireflies, a type of beetle that lights up its abdomen with a chemical reaction to attract a mate

smithsonian.com

Amber Firefly, by Radim Schreiber

If I had to pick a favorite insect, I’d probably go with the firefly. I can’t help but smile when I see them glow on a summer night—and still try to catch one or two.

There are about 2,000 species of fireflies, a type of beetle that lights up its abdomen with a chemical reaction to attract a mate. That glow can be yellow, green or pale-red, as in the photograph above. In some places the firefly dance is synchronized, with the insects flashing in unison or in waves. The lightshow has also been beneficial to science—researchers have found that the chemical responsible for it, luciferase, is a useful marker in a variety of applications, including genetic engineering and forensics.

The winner of the Natural World category in Smithsonian Magazine’s 8th Annual Photo Contest also saw the magic in the firefly and caught in on film a year ago in Iowa. Radim Schreiber writes:

In the Czech Republic where I grew up, I only saw fireflies a couple of times deep in the forest, and even then, they were very dimly lit. When I came to the United States I was shocked and thrilled to see the abundance of fireflies and their amazing glow. I dreamed about photographing fireflies close-up seven years ago. Last year I was happy to encounter in the grass and take a photograph of its magical bioluminescence, up close, without the use of flash, in its natural environment. This particular photograph stands out for me because of interesting amber color glow, which I have never seen before. I am glad I can share this photo and its light with others.

If you’ve caught your own bit of magic on film, why not enter our 9th Annual Photo Contest? The deadline is December 1.

About Sarah Zielinski
Sarah Zielinski

Sarah Zielinski is an award-winning science writer and editor. She is a contributing writer in science for Smithsonian.com and blogs at Wild Things, which appears on Science News.

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