Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Seduction By Flashing


There are many things about the eastern part of the country that a person might miss if she moved to Oregon, none of which is humidity. Or ticks. Or black flies. Or mosquitoes. But if there is a sparser selection of good beer, there is a richer complement of salamanders. There is the sweet and evident wealth of the deciduous forests. And there are fireflies.

In my memory, we had fireflies all summer in Virginia, but the internet informs me that that is yet another fabrication of the nostalgia department of my brain. They go off for a few weeks, maybe. But what a show! As usual, it's all a matter of advertising yourself to the opposite sex, and it works way better than a Speedo. Who's not going to be impressed by someone who mixes an enzyme with oxygen and magnesium and blows light out his butt? No one. Well, the firefly doesn't blow it out. It's more contained, like a little lantern.

That's what kids in firefly territory invariably try to do with them, at least once: capture as many as they can and put them in a jar with holes considerately poked in the lid, and stick it on their nightstand as a lantern. The beetles mope darkly in there for a while, and then they wait until the kid is asleep before dropping dead, and by morning, when you don't need a lantern anyway, all they can do is rattle. Good kids give up after a while, recognizing this as cruelty, and content themselves with catch-and-release.

The male fireflies flash in a pattern and cadence peculiar to their particular species, and the females are thus able to mark them as fellow tribesmen and possible consorts. The females are perfectly capable of flashing back, of course, but they do so whilst parked in the recliner, while the males say "look at THIS! I can do this while I'm FLYING! I'm over HERE! Now I'm over THERE! What a GUY!" The females are cool with that as long as they don't have to get up and do anything. That's nice, dear. I'm right here. Bring me some nectar while you're up.

I was surprised to learn that we do indeed have fireflies out west, but they don't flash, which makes them a sorry excuse for a firefly, really. You wouldn't watch an acrobat lying down doing bench-presses with the trapeze, not for long, anyway. In some areas, fireflies of the same species coordinate their flashes so they all go off at once. Supposedly it helps with the advertising. One gets to be The Dude, and the rest are his wing men. Everyone gets along because they all think they're The Dude. For all anyone knows, the west coast fireflies, that don't flash, also don't flash in unison, which is only marginally cool.

Fireflies can also be helpful in assisting human females to sort out the goods. A certain kind of little boy cannot be prevented from catching a firefly, ripping its glowing abdomen off, and sticking it in the middle of his forehead to show off. Your higher-quality girls can immediately eliminate these boys from favorable consideration. As they metamorphose into adults, those boys become too fat and lazy to catch fireflies, and present instead with sleeveless Confederate flag t-shirts and a Budweiser.

Still helpful.

36 comments:

  1. My cousin Joey used to be one of those little boys who ripped their abdomens off. I was horrified. He has become a greedy, seedy, bald man with flecks of that whitish spittle in the corners of his mouth (wtf is that anyway? Never mind. Don't really want to know.). Serves him right.

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    1. The other thing little boys liked to do was drop a Daddy Long-Legs through an oscillating fan. I still can't skoosh a bug.

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    2. I have a little plastic pyramid with a sliding door and a long handle at it's apex specifically for catching bugs and releasing them outdoors. I don't knowingly kill bugs. Except mosquitoes. Those I smash with my bare hands, then do a victory dance.

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    3. I smash mosquitoes too, not that we have any to speak of here. But the other night I woke up because a spider was crawling up my arm, and my split-second reaction was to brush it off, then brush it off the sheets to the floor--then lie awake for another half hour wondering where it was.

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  2. Oh, well played, Murr :)

    I rarely saw fireflies as a child, and never in our yard. Does that say something about the land we lived on, I wonder?

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    1. Atlantic Canada. Out in the country.

      Maybe I went to bed too early.

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  3. Sounds like those Eastern Fireflies need to show those snotty surfer upstart Western Fireflies what's what!

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  4. Which internet have you been reading? The wrong one, I think. I see fireflies all summer (though not in huge numbers - too sandy around here and they like rich lawns instead of scraggly pine woods like we've got here in coastal SC).

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    1. You mean, I have a memory that might actually be correct? I have learned not to trust that area of my brain. I'll say something happens, and someone else says no it didn't, and I don't even put up a fight.

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  5. We moved from Coastal SC for better firefles. It was worth it.

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    1. I don't believe you, but I like it. I like it. By the way, back home we called them lightning bugs. It must be a regional thing.

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  6. We have them here in Georgia and when my Florida-born and raised great niece and nephew were here, they were amazed by the fireflies. They live at the beach and had never seen them or even heard of them. And I never knew there were boys who pulled them apart. Ick and mean.

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    1. And Dave (that is Dave, right?) is a really good sport!

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    2. Oh, you have no idea. I have an outtake picture that I do not intend to share, nor to delete.

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    3. I think our fertile imaginations can guess what that might be. And, yes, he's a sport.

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  7. In my experience here in Central Virginia, the fireflies first appear sometime in early June and do their flashy thing thru June and July and most of August. I haven't been paying enough attention to say for sure, but I don't think I've been seeing any in the past couple of weeks (?). So not ALL summer, depending on how you define summer, but most of the summer. If you're a school kid though, they basically flash all summer. They start when school lets out in June, and stop when you go back to school in late August. Which makes your memory of them substantially correct!

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    1. They're just a good idea all around. Catching them was like playing freeze tag. They'd flash and you'd head off that direction and freeze, waiting for the next flash.

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  8. Iowa here. We call them lightning bugs and have them all summer

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    1. Now I'm wondering if maybe (since they flash to let the females know they're the right species) there really are shorter seasons to them, but overlapping species throughout the summer?

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  9. Fireflies are something we don't have down here in Australia, unless they're in states I've never lived in.

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    1. Hey, River, we do.Well, up here in the sticky tropics we do.Pretty sure I remember them up on Tamborine Mountain, too.

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    2. I will need to know why it's called Tamborine Mountain. But note: stickiness. Fireflies love humidity.

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    3. I never got further north than Brisbane. We most certainly do have states Murr. Six of them and a Territory too.

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    4. Oh that's so Canadian. So...sexy.

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  10. My fave firefly sighting was a forest edge full of them in Costa Rica -- flashing way faster than in North America! Imagine little green flash bulbs going off at the Super Bowl halftime show... about that fast, it seemed.

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    1. Dang! Some of the pictures I've seen made them out to be green. I remember them yellow.

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  11. I think I saw that guy in the coat in my neighborhood last week!! He was displaying an ad for summer sausage on his belly...er, at least that's what I thought it was! I kept my distance.

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  12. We live a half hour from the mysterious " blue ghost" fireflies. Now THAT is some serious and beautiful synchronized flashing!

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    1. Wow! Just had a look! And synchronized, too. All I've ever seen are the yaller ones, all catty-wampus.

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