Fireflies All Around

It seems eerily quiet as the electric motor of the Kaingo boat floats us closer to shore. A Scops owl “prrrrt…prrrt” a little distance away, somewhere a zebra neighs its displeasure at something, maybe a predator on the prowl. Tonight, the moon is bright enough to navigate the boat without any additional light,

We are surrounded by little green flashes of fireflies surround us. It is a fairy-tale landscape. I stop the boat. Gently, I catch one in my two cupped hands. It is a male, now sending out distress signals to the rest of the swarm around us. I release him unharmed.

We float along, drinking in the magic that is fireflies.

Back home, I do a bit of research into fireflies.

There are over 2000 species of fireflies. They live on every continent, but Antarctica.  Antarctica has the Aurora Australis, the Southern Lights to make up for the lack of fireflies. They are true beetles of the family Lampyridae. In their larval stage, which lasts as long as two years, they prey on snails, slugs and earthworms. Adults rarely eat at all, opting for procreation rather than a meal.

I just love this little fact!

The female fireflies of the family Photuris flash a false signal to prospective mates, who, understandably, come for a closer look. She then eats him, gains the toxins in his body and spikes her own eggs with this poison as an added chemical defense strategy.

The glow of a firefly is caused by bioluminescence called luciferin. (Lucifer, in Latin, means Light -Brining, or Morningstar) This photoprotein needs agitation by oxygen to agitate a series of charged ions that then produces a ‘cool’ yellow-green or red light. Fireflies can control the frequency of their lights by controlling the flow of oxygen over the luciferin.

All is not well in the lives of the little firefly though. Habitat loss, light pollution (it confuses the males and keep them from finding a mate), and farming chemicals have reduced populations of fireflies in most areas.

The population on Kaingo does not suffer the same fate though. With our protected river frontage, accessible banks and little light pollution, the firefly population is as strong as ever.

We drive back to the lodge under the sweep of the spotlight, looking for some nocturnal animals. They are nowhere to be found.

When we get back at the lodge, after our encounter with the fireflies, I chat with one of our guests.

“I can remember them being all over Johannesburg, you know. We would lie on the ground and count them as they would fly by”.

She went silent for a little while

“My husband and I shared our first kiss looking at fireflies…”


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