A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: Lightnin’ Bugs

You might know them as fireflies.

They are the pixy dust dazzling the dreams of children.

Then in the darkness I heard the whir of tiny wings and suddenly a splendid yellow light streaked from my hand. Like a statue in the darkness I stood watching as our lightning bug’s flashes became lost among the soft, yellow callings of ten thousand other lightning bugs.

Jim Conrad, Walks with Red Dog

They bejewel the soft summer evenings with shimmers of magic.

Every Southern kid I know has caught them in jars and smuggled them into the house, hoping against hope that they’d turn into fairies overnight.

Sadly, they have most likely have woken to a jar of dead or dying bugs.

Or at least, I always did. Maybe I lacked the appropriate incantation.

Believe it or not, lightning bugs are actually a type of beetle, known as Lampyridae. The males spark a seductive message and a ready female responds with a return flash, signaling her desire to connect. Just as fascinating, each species has a different light pattern, a sort of Morse code, they use to keep their luminous message unique to their own kind.

And you’d want to be especially careful about dating the wrong type of bug, as some fireflies are cannibalistic. The female of that persuasion flashes out a little, “Hey boys, why don’t ‘cha come up and see me sometime,” aimed at fireflies of a different ilk and when the unsuspecting male comes a callin’, pants down and ready for love, she gobbles him up.

Humans, of course, are far more deadly to the tiny bugs, and not just because of the millions of children chasing after them once the sun goes down.

Along with toxic pesticides and urban sprawl encroaching their forests, fields and streams; light pollution from buildings and cars corrupts their delicate language of light, obstructing their ability to call to their mates to procreate.

Scientists fear that one day they will twinkle out of existence entirely.

Stealing away far too much of the magic of nature and our childhoods.

Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can’t sustain the part.”
― Robert Frost, The Poetry of Robert Frost

L

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9 thoughts on “A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: Lightnin’ Bugs

  1. When I was ‘little’…we used to carry a jar around all the time when we were out in the night. Of course, we were allowed to play even after it was dark. I never got to take my lightening bugs in the house,of course. but by morning I’d run to the porch -they were all dead. Too bad, I’d say. We’ll catch more tonight.

    Thanks for the memory,Kim.

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  2. For several years, I saw no lightning bugs, but I have seen a few in recent years. Doesn’t it seem that everything lovely in nature is dangerous to something? Hope they make a resurgence.

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  3. Lightning bugs!!! It’s been so long since me and my sisters would chase them down in my grandparents’ yard that I’d let the more generic and duller term “firefly” paint over it in my mind. All they wanted was a little loving, and they get confined to a mayonnaise jar with a few crude holes poked in the lid instead…

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  4. We called them lightning bugs on Long Island, too, Kimi, and they were a magnificent memory of my childhood, catching them in a jar and them letting them go to light up the yard again. Great story here, my friend.

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