Photinus courtesy of Don Salvatore

Fun Facts

Fireflies are a very common organism that most people could identify.  Growing up, many children and adults find pleasure in catching fireflies and watching them flash throughout the night.  However, that is about the extent of knowledge for most individuals about fireflies.  We chose Photinus ignitus because it is a  common, native firefly to the United States, and it is a firefly that performs bioluminescence.  Through this website, we have placed much information for  you to gain a better understanding on this complex insect.  Here, on Fun Facts, we give a quick summary on some facts about fireflies that you may find interesting!

  • Fireflies are bountiful on every continent except for Antarctica (Lloyd, 2005).  If you want to learn more about where Photinus ignitus lives, here is a link to our Habitat page.

  • Not all fireflies produce bioluminescence.  Some fireflies, such as Photinus ignitus, have the ability to produce light with their lanterns.  Other fireflies do not use bioluminescence because they are active during the day, relying more on pheromones (Lewis & Cratsley, 2008).  Interestingly enough, the western United States only has fireflies that lack the ability to produce light (Zielinski, 2013).  Here is a cool video showing a firefly display of bioluminescence.
                           Photuris firefly (same family as Photinus) in mid-flight courtesy of Don Salvatore

  • There are more than 2,000 species of fireflies (Lloyd, 2005). 

  • Each species of fireflies that glows has its own pattern of light flashing, based on pulse duration or pulse rate (Lewis & Cratsley, 2008).  Due to this, if a person is in the right habitat at the right time, male flashing behavior can be used to identify species.  Learn more about these patterns in Life History & Reproduction.

  • Firefly light can be either yellow, green or orange (Zielinski, 2013).  This video shows a clear picture of a lantern producing a yellow bioluminenscent color.

  • The light that a firefly produces in its lantern is made by a chemical reaction.  This reaction occurs when oxygen combines with calcium, adenosine triphosphate (ATP), and a chemical called luciferin.  The enzyme luciferase also needs to be present.  The light that is produced by this reaction is the most efficient light in the world.  Almost 100% of the energy made in this reaction is emitted as light.  (Zielinski, 2013)

  • Fireflies are a type of beetle.

  • The enzyme luciferase, when first discovered, was only able to be obtained through fireflies themselves.  Today, scientists have discovered how to synthetically create luciferase (Lloyd, 2005).  Luciferase is used in food safety testing and forensic tests, among other things, proving to be a very useful chemical (Zielinski, 2013). 
                                     Underside of Photinus ignitus courtesy of Don Salvatore

  • Firefly larvae may glow to communicate to predators that they are unpalatable (Eisner et. Al, 1978). 

  • Fireflies are on the decline.  Companies harvesting fireflies for the enzyme luciferase could deplete some of the population.  Other factors that could very well be contributing to the decline include light pollution and habitat destruction (Zielinski, 2013)

  • For centuries, the Japanese have used fireflies as metaphors for emotional and personal experiences relating to the human condition (Lloyd, 2005).

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