Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Matisse. Matisse Wonders, “What is the purpose of a firefly's light?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Matisse!
Do you love warm summer evenings? We do! There's nothing better than sitting around a campfire in your backyard while you roast marshmallows for s'mores and look for lightning bugs.
Lightning bugs — also commonly known as fireflies — are so easy to spot during the night when their lights glow bright. But where do they go when the Sun rises?
Do they burrow underground to wait for the night to return? Maybe they bathe in the sunlight to recharge their lights?
Fireflies don't burrow underground. They also don't need sunlight to recharge their lights. So why don't we notice them during the day? Where do they go?
Fireflies are interesting creatures, and there's a lot about them that still mystifies scientists.
For example, fireflies aren't really flies at all. They're beetles! And there are over 2,000 species of them that can be found all over the world. Not all firefly species glow, though. In fact, most fireflies west of the Rocky Mountains in the United States do not glow.
Fireflies that glow do so when oxygen mixes with a pigment called luciferin, an enzyme called luciferase, and a chemical called adenosine triphosphate. This process is known as bioluminescence. Fireflies light up after dark in order to attract mates.
Since fireflies are nocturnal insects, they spend most of their daylight hours on the ground amongst tall grasses. Long grass helps to hide fireflies during the day, so you're unlikely to see them unless you're on your hands and knees looking for them.
Another reason you might not notice fireflies during the day is that they might not be there! Fireflies have very short life cycles. Adult fireflies live only long enough to mate and lay eggs. Some scientists believe fireflies may not even need to eat during their adult period. Firefly larvae usually live about one year (from one mating season to the next) before they become adults and give birth to the next generation of fireflies.
So even though you might not see fireflies once the Sun comes up, they're hanging around amongst the tall grasses. If you look for them, you'll find them. Of course, if you're like most people, you'd rather simply wait for dusk when they come to life and shine their lights for all to see!