Lampyris noctilucais a firefly species from Europe (Coleoptera/Lampyridae). These beetles use their bioluminescence to attract mates. The adult females are mostly famed for their glow, although all stages of their life cycle are capable of glowing.
Scientists Discovery the Missing Link in Bioluminescence
With bioluminescence—the process that makes fireflies glow—now a mainstay in medical research, scientists are reporting discovery of a “missing link” of its evolution, which represents one of the deepest mysteries about bioluminescence. It paves the way toward development of new enzymes that glow in different colors and are 10, 100 or 1,000 times brighter, they say in ACS’ journal Biochemistry.
V.R. Viviani and colleagues focus on luciferases, enzymes critical in producing the bioluminescent effect in fireflies, jellyfish and other creatures. Scientists have known that bioluminescence originated 400 million years ago in jellyfish, and more recently in fireflies and other beetles. But how? That has been a mystery, the source of controversy and the key to developing more versatile bioluminescent enzymes for medicine and biology…
As the 10 micrometer scale bar gives away, you’re looking at something very small. As it turns out, the jagged shape of the scales actually enhances the fireflies’ glow, researchers report Jan. 8, 2013 in the journal Optics Express. The scientists used the example of the fireflies (genus Photuris) to design a new overlayer for LED lights that likewise brightens up the bulbs’ output, making them 1.5 times more efficient than the originals.
Flashing flirted its way up the firefly family tree.These beetles’ evolutionary history shows a strange metamorphosis unfolding. Firefly eyes grow bigger, more bug-like, as the insects’ light organs enlarge. Their antennae, used like a nose to follow pheromones, shrink into stubs. The more important bioluminescent courtship signaling became throughout their history, the more the trappings of invisible communication faded out.
When Marc Branham, a professor of entomology at the University of Florida, began researching fireflies, he assumed such a beloved animal would be a textbook case in entomology. He was shocked to learn how little scientists knew about the common insect.
What researchers did know was that each species of bioluminescent adult firefly has its own flash fingerprint. Males fly through the air and search for females with a species-specific light display. Some flash only once. Some emit “flash trains” of up to nine carefully timed pulses. Others fly in specific aerial patterns, briefly dipping before sharply ascending and forming a “J” of light. A few even shake their abdomens from side to side and appear to be twinkling. “So if you’re looking over a field,” says Branham, “You can pretty accurately tell how many species are in that area.”…
Researchers placed faux fireflies (a flashing green LED) next to either tasty crickets or a toxic firefly species (Ellychnia corrusca), and then released a jumping spider. Though the spiders initially attacked both insects, those that went after the fireflies quickly learned to avoid the flashing LED. In the wild, both palatable and unpalatable firefly species often share the same habitat, so if a spider or other predator gets a bad taste in its mouth, it will begin to shun all flashing lights, to the benefit of both species.
They are winged beetles, and also commonly called lightning bugs for their conspicuous crepuscular use of bioluminescence to attract mates or prey. Fireflies produce a “cold light”, with no infrared or ultraviolet frequencies. This chemically-produced light from the lower abdomen may be yellow, green, or pale-red, with wavelengths from 510 to 670 nanometers.
There are 2,000 species of firefly found in temperate and tropical environments. Many are in marshes or in wet, wooded areas where their larvae have abundant sources of food. These larvae emit light and are often called “glowworms”, in particular, in Eurasia. In the Americas, “glow worm” also refers to the related Phengodidae. In many species, both male and female fireflies have the ability to fly, but in some species females are flightless…
Fireflies, actually beetles, which use bioluminescence for sexual selection, synchronize the flashing of their neon-green lights as large groups in order to help female fireflies recognize potential mates, according to a 2010 study conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut. There are more than 2,000 species of fireflies, or lightning bugs, and they are actually winged beetles, not flies.