SNYDER: Mother Nature gives us glorious summertime light show


It's one of the most peaceful and beautiful scenes Mother Nature can provide.

Imagine it with me.

A late-evening thunderstorm has just rolled through. The freshly ionized atmosphere fills your lungs with crisp, refreshing air. At a nearby pond, a handful of lazy bullfrogs welcome a summer full moon with their iconic song. And in the backyard, dozens of fireflies light up the night. One here. One there.

As a child, it was those fireflies that defined summer nights. Without a jar filled with lightning bugs flashing beside my bed, it was not summer. Their pale yellow bursts of light filled me with intrigue and littered my mind with speculation of just how they pulled off such a magical stunt, time and time again.

Now that I am a slightly bigger kid, the intrigue is still there, but the speculation is gone. I now know the secret to those flashes.

Science tells us it's a long, complicated chemical reaction, far too dry to share here. But rest assured, without the unique enzyme luciferase, lightning bugs would be just another ordinary insect.

In all, there are more than 2,000 species of fireflies scattered throughout the world. Oddly, some species don't light up at all. And in other species, only one sex emits the luminescent glow.

Throughout North America, it's mostly the male of the species that lights up the warm, summer air. Females don't flash until they're ready to mate and have found a suitable partner.

Once that happens, a short flash "conversation" takes place between the pair. If both of the bugs like what they see, the couple mates. Each of the 2,000 firefly species has its own unique language of flash patterns.

One of the greatest mysteries to any young firefly collector is what to feed the goofy looking bugs. Throughout my childhood, I had jars filled with all sorts of concoctions. None ever seemed to work.

In nature, lightning bugs tend to consume the most food during their larval stage. They munch on anything from snails to earthworms to decaying animals. Adults, which tend to have matters other than feeding on their minds, feed chiefly on plant nectar and pollen.

Some cannibalistic fireflies have learned to mimic the light patterns of competitor species. They lure their victim with enticing flashes and pounce on them for an easy meal. It's not the scene I imagined as I stuffed dozens of the bugs into my glass jars, but it certainly adds to the fascination and intrigue.

Most firefly species live for just a few months each summer. It's the perfect amount of time to light up the dark and bring some nighttime excitement into backyards across the globe.

Each night during the year's warmest months, Mother Nature presents us with a glorious light show, unsurpassed by any human creation.

A more peaceful summertime scene, I cannot imagine.

Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at