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Speaking of Fireflies...


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#1 QueenTiye

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Posted 24 July 2004 - 01:05 AM

OK - so I'm outside plucking thistles out of my front patch - when a bug comes flying by my head.  I'm notoriously terrified of bugs, and jumped back slightly - when it suddenly lit up a pretty green. FIREFLY! :)  So - I do what anyone would do in that situation - I caught it.

I've been waiting ALL week to ask how the heck that is possible?!?  I mean - how can it be such a hobby to catch fireflies, and WHY do they make it so attractive a sport by lighting up to be MORE visible for catching??? Isn't that an evolutionary disadvantage?

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#2 iMel

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Posted 24 July 2004 - 01:14 AM

It's like a mating dance.

http://mn.essortment...eflies_rkeu.htm

Quote

But why do fireflies light? The reason is simple: sex. Fireflies light to attract a mate. The males fly around flashing, looking for a mate, and the females tend to stay still, flashing in encouragement from their hiding places. Each species of firefly has a particular pattern and rate of flash. In fact, some species of female fireflies imitate the flash pattern of another species and when the male of the imitated species lands to mate, the female eats him. What a way to get a meal!

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#3 tennyson

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Posted 24 July 2004 - 01:20 AM

Humans have been around for only a short period in relation to the amount of time that the firefly has been in existance and the few humans or other creatures that might catch them have been counterbalanced by the need for them to use the light they generate in mating.
A person catching the occasional firefly just hasn't put the kind of evolutionary pressure on them to develop some other method of signaling that might not be visible and aside from some birds thier predators don't depend upon visual cues to locate them anyway. A bat would echolocate them and other creatures would have other means like by scent or vibration.
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#4 Orpheus

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Posted 24 July 2004 - 01:48 AM

How come you never catch me when I'm doing my mating dance, Handmaiden, huh? Huh?

#5 Christopher

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Posted 24 July 2004 - 07:30 AM

Basically, HM, what it comes down to is that evolution is driven by reproduction, not so much by individual survival.  By flashing and calling attention to themselves, individual fireflies do increase their risk of getting eaten by predators.  But it's also the only way they're gonna find mates, and there are enough of them around that the species as a whole will continue to have enough offspring to live on, even if a fair percentage of them get gobbled up.  So their strategy works, on an evolutionary level if not a self-interest level.

It reminds me of the cicadas that recently overran my city.  The reason they come out by the billions every 17 years is that they're so totally helpless.  No means of attack, no means of defense.  So their only survival strategy as a species is the cannon fodder approach -- they emerge in such numbers that the predators just get full while there are still plenty of cicadas left.  So huge numbers of them die, but enough live on to perpetuate the species.  Kind of sad, in a way.
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#6 QueenTiye

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Posted 24 July 2004 - 11:25 AM

Orpheus, on Jul 24 2004, 02:46 AM, said:

How come you never catch me when I'm doing my mating dance, Handmaiden, huh? Huh?
Um... because I've never seen you flash green light out of your backside? :hehe:

HM07

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#7 QueenTiye

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Posted 24 July 2004 - 11:28 AM

OK.... thanks... it wasn't just the green light, it was how slow they are.  I mean - geez.  They practically stand still!!!  But, the cicada idea makes sense.  So in other words - they simply have been successful enough that their slow flying and their flashing doesn't kill off the species.  Is it possible that moving so slow IS a survival mechanism against predators? Like - by moving slow, they can kinda hover and NOT attract attention?

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#8 DWF

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Posted 24 July 2004 - 11:38 AM

Orpheus, on Jul 24 2004, 02:46 AM, said:

How come you never catch me when I'm doing my mating dance, Handmaiden, huh? Huh?
I hope she never hears your mating call either. ;)  :alien:
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#9 Anastashia

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Posted 24 July 2004 - 05:32 PM

I loved catching these as a child and putting them in a jar without cutting off their air to watch them for a while. Then we'd eventually let them out and watch them fly away.

Ani

#10 Delvo

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Posted 24 July 2004 - 05:53 PM

Hunting fireflies would require an unusual combination of traits for the hunting species. First, because they're so small and move in such unpredictable paths and aren't lit most of the time, you'd have to have pretty good vision to find them and follow their movements, especially since they're mostly out after dark. Humans DO have pretty good vision, and even we can't really do it much outside of the brief time when they're lighting up but there's also some twilight left. Second, you'd have to have a brain that understands that there even IS something there to look for when the light goes off, because it's a thing that turns on and off; appearing & disappearing prey isn't something most predators need to deal with, so it's a concept I'll bet few would grasp. Third, since the lightning bugs are nocturnal and their give-away that we're talking about is visual, you'd have to be a hunter that hunts at night but relies largely on vision, which is a rare combination. Owls fit, but they don't meet another criterion: being inclined to eat prey of that kind of size. They go for bigger stuff like mice and frogs. Bats hunt bugs at night but don't use their vision much, and they're no more likely to hear lightning bugs than they are to hear any other bugs that fly around singly instead of in groups. Small bug-eating birds that rely on vision exist but they're diurnal, not nocturnal, so the lightning bugs' glowing wouldn't stand out much to them, even if it were used much in the day, which it isn't.

They might indeed be very easy prey for some kind of predator out there if it met all of these descriptions (nocturnal, visually oriented hunters of bugs, which can conceive of prey that blinks on and off but is still there to find even when off). But I can't name such a predator.

Edited by Delvo, 24 July 2004 - 05:56 PM.


#11 Christopher

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Posted 24 July 2004 - 06:08 PM

^^Ahh, fascinating.  So they've just sort of managed to fall through the cracks between predation styles.
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#12 Cardie

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Posted 24 July 2004 - 06:16 PM

I'm glad to hear someone else call them lightning bugs!  For years I thought that fireflies were something altogether different from lightning bugs, which I eagerly pursued on summer nights as a child.

Actually, kids with jars are the ideal predators for fireflies--but most of them let them go after a while.  :)

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#13 Nick

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Posted 24 July 2004 - 06:56 PM

Fireflies/Lightning Bugs (and yes Cardie, I grew up in North Carolina and have always called them Lightning Bugs) are also thought to use their lights to warn predators that they have toxic/bad tasting defensive chemicals--much like certain animals are brightly colored in that "you really don't want to eat me" shade of red.

And predators do learn to be wary of something that looks freaky.

#14 Avalon

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Posted 24 July 2004 - 07:40 PM

Orpheus, on Jul 24 2004, 02:46 AM, said:

How come you never catch me when I'm doing my mating dance, Handmaiden, huh? Huh?
*does a doubletake at Orph's avatar*  What the--?

Oh, good googlymoogly!!!   :eek4:  :lol:  *falls off her chair in a giggling fit*  Oh...*gasp*...my gosh...*gasp*...that's just too funny!   :lol:   Orph's Amazing Glowy Lightning Bug Bum!

#15 Orpheus

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Posted 24 July 2004 - 08:15 PM

Yes, sadly only certain people can see it, apparently. I'm glad I didn't bother with the Morse-coded message.

#16 QueenTiye

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Posted 24 July 2004 - 09:43 PM

ROTFLOL!!! OMG!!!!
ROTFLOL!!! OMG!!!!

ROTFLOL!!! OMG!!!!
ROTFLOL!!! OMG!!!!

ROTFLOL!!! OMG!!!!
ROTFLOL!!! OMG!!!!

***catches Orpheus*** Now, should I put him in a clear glass jar??? ;)

HM07

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#17 QueenTiye

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Posted 24 July 2004 - 09:48 PM

Delvo, on Jul 24 2004, 06:51 PM, said:

Hunting fireflies would require an unusual combination of traits for the hunting species. First, because they're so small and move in such unpredictable paths and aren't lit most of the time, you'd have to have pretty good vision to find them and follow their movements, especially since they're mostly out after dark. Humans DO have pretty good vision, and even we can't really do it much outside of the brief time when they're lighting up but there's also some twilight left. Second, you'd have to have a brain that understands that there even IS something there to look for when the light goes off, because it's a thing that turns on and off; appearing & disappearing prey isn't something most predators need to deal with, so it's a concept I'll bet few would grasp. Third, since the lightning bugs are nocturnal and their give-away that we're talking about is visual, you'd have to be a hunter that hunts at night but relies largely on vision, which is a rare combination. Owls fit, but they don't meet another criterion: being inclined to eat prey of that kind of size. They go for bigger stuff like mice and frogs. Bats hunt bugs at night but don't use their vision much, and they're no more likely to hear lightning bugs than they are to hear any other bugs that fly around singly instead of in groups. Small bug-eating birds that rely on vision exist but they're diurnal, not nocturnal, so the lightning bugs' glowing wouldn't stand out much to them, even if it were used much in the day, which it isn't.

They might indeed be very easy prey for some kind of predator out there if it met all of these descriptions (nocturnal, visually oriented hunters of bugs, which can conceive of prey that blinks on and off but is still there to find even when off). But I can't name such a predator.
As per the usual... :welldone:

Cardie I grew up calling them lightning bugs and fireflies interchangeably, pretty much the way Delvo used them in his post.

HM07

Een Draght Mackt Maght


#18 QueenTiye

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Posted 25 July 2004 - 12:15 AM

Delvo, on Jul 24 2004, 06:51 PM, said:

They might indeed be very easy prey for some kind of predator out there if it met all of these descriptions (nocturnal, visually oriented hunters of bugs, which can conceive of prey that blinks on and off but is still there to find even when off). But I can't name such a predator.
Domestic cats?

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#19 WildChildCait

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Posted 25 July 2004 - 04:01 AM

I only ever got introduced to them as lightningbugs.....when i was 18! LOL, we didnt' have them where I grew up, I think they are absolutely fascinating to watch!

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#20 Nick

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Posted 25 July 2004 - 12:00 PM

Handmaiden07, on Jul 25 2004, 01:13 AM, said:

Delvo, on Jul 24 2004, 06:51 PM, said:

They might indeed be very easy prey for some kind of predator out there if it met all of these descriptions (nocturnal, visually oriented hunters of bugs, which can conceive of prey that blinks on and off but is still there to find even when off). But I can't name such a predator.
Domestic cats?
Domestic cats are only vaguely nocturnal, as they tend to be active (on and off) night and day . . . but they've got the vision and intelligence for it.  Although I somehow doubt a domestic cat is going to bother with fireflies . . . even as slow as the insects are, a small flightless mammal is going to have a tough time catching them.

Although, I can see a cat trying to catch fireflies for pure entertainment value . . . but once they actually catch one and try to eat it, I think they'll figure out pretty quickly that these bugs are *not* tasty snacks. (I'm not sure, but some might even be toxic).

As for what eats fireflies--frogs, spiders, birds and other fireflies.

-Nick


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