Monday, August 24, 2009

Firefly - Light Emiting Diode or Lights Emits Dies

Of all the weird and wonderful instances of insect behaviour found around the Caribbean – and there are ‘Hercules’ beetles six inches long in Dominica and ancient insects millions of years old caught in amber in the Dominican Republic – one of the loveliest and most distinctive is the firefly. To see one, meandering across your bedroom at night, or flickering in the garden, is one of those moments that give a feeling of real privilege.

Officially the firefly belongs to the family lamprydae, but of course it takes its common name from its characteristic of flashing at night. Which is of course a mating display. Males fly around flashing, in the hope of impressing a female on a nearby leaf. And if she likes the quality of the flash – apparently some are sexier than others - then she will reply with a responsive flash after a specific time period.

Generally Fireflies like dank, forested areas, particularly around streams and in gullies for instance (Fern Gully leading out of Ocho Rios in Jamaica used to have hundreds, but the petrol fumes have done for them now apparently). Equally they can be seen in gardens (near ponds and rivers). I was told once that they have just twenty minutes of ‘flash’, after which, it was said, they die. A high risk strategy, then.

Put two fireflies together and they will often flash in time. There are places in the world (though I have not heard of one in the Caribbean itself) where whole riverbanks of trees flash in time – on for a second, off for a second, on for a second, off. In the Caribbean you will have to be happy to see them individually. And, hopefully for them, in flash-induced pairs.

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