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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Why Insects Glow





In 1968, I was studying insect behavior in Chicago, the site of the Democratic National Convention, and decided it would be abruptly prudent to conduct my studies from a further remove. Twenty four hours later, I was, for no particular reason or offense that I recall, in San Antonio --with a strange sense of relief at no longer being where I was not.

The City Of San Antonio, Texas, was at that time celebrating its 250th anniversary by hosting the Hemisfair. Hemisfair was a play upon the word, hemisphere. It was a celebration of whatever half of the world America was friends with at the time. It was a good fair! I especially remember slow-moving elevated trams and a sculpture garden that invited relaxation. But my entomological inquiries always drew me back to the Paseo del Rio. With the Alamo at my back and the river before me, I saw fireflies.

Fireflies are insects that glow because of a phenomenon called bioluminescence, manifested by creatures that grow to adulthood around little flashlights. A few days later, I was in Sabinal, a town of fewer ecological challenges along the Sabinal River, and there were even more fireflies, everywhere --especially over wet lawns at night. I got swarmed. My next memory is of waiting for a bus outside a diner in Hondo, watching a tumbleweed tumble slowly from one horizon to the opposite horizon and disappear over it.

I was on a bus, a series of buses, heading back to California, confident my studies would continue. Fireflies had identified me as a safe host and infested my person. They knew I would not paw and snap at them like a kitten --despite my practice of rolling around on the rug while batting a ball of yarn. They accompanied me to my home state and intermarried with other insects. Results may be consulted in Normaphoto over this essay. In conclusion, I am certain insects glow because they possess metabolic reservoirs of chemical radiance, but I am even more certain they glow because they like me. 

21 comments:

  1. I'm relieved to know that I'm not the only one who rolls on the floor while batting balls of yarn. Mine is an affliction that comes from taking care of too many stray felines.

    As for fireflies - - I love them! I had no idea they existed in San Antonio. They wouldn't dare come to West TX where I live. The dust and dryness would kill and confuse them. Not exactly in that order.

    When I was a tiny child in New Jersey they were called lightning bugs, and that's what I still call them. They have the ability to transform summer nights into absolute magic.

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    1. They were there in '68, but I know San Antonio has got built up a lot since then. There's been a lot more pesticide use and, in recent years, drought. Now that some measures have been taken to stabilize these issues, I hear they're returning to the area. Yes, magic has a way of doing that!

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  2. Of course they glow because they like you. How could they do anything else? Love and a cough cannot be hidden...

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    1. Indeed madam, among myriad other things, the world is an equation from which we cannot subtract love without losing fireflies.

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  3. The other night we sat outside with my grandchildren watching the magic of the fireflies. The kids, who were visiting from CA, were in awe, as was I. No matter how many times I witness this sign of summer, it is always such a delight. They make me feel young again.

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    1. What a wonderful calm magic you furnished your California kids. That's the sort of memory that stays with them always.

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  4. Geo I fondly remember many a summer night when I was younger, running and chasing fireflies in the fields behind our house. Such gpod times. I hardly ever seem them anymore though. I think they are slowly disappearing. Either that, or my nostalgic memories lead me to believe that there used to be more than there actually were.

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    1. If you remember fireflies being more numerous, they doubtless were. That's the sort of fun that can't be exaggerated.

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  5. Hmmm...so I gather from this latest post that you attract bugs lol? I attract moths, probbly because they are belligerent little cusses and they know I don't like them.
    We used to have fire flies or lightning bugs that would drift across the cedars at the back of our lot in the evening. Since they turned the field behind us into a subdivision we haven't seen them. We have however, still been bugged.

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    1. Unfortunately, with housing tracts come lots of pesticides. And yes, as a longtime gardener I am full of vermin.

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  6. Fireflies! Glowing little bestids.

    Pearl

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    1. Let us all go forth as glowing bestids and conduct some light in the world!

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  7. Fireflies are magic - one of my favorite parts of summer growing up.

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    1. There is the essence of delighted summer nights!

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  8. It's been years since I've seen a firefly...thanks for bringing me back to a simpler time! :)

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  9. Dear Geo.,
    I only saw fireflies once in my life - at a birthday party for husband on a state farm/seigneury. So impressive! And on Monday (husband's birthday again, big celebration which is still a complete surprise) I will quote a part of "The Exploits of Moominpappa", which starts "I, Moominpappa, am sitting tonight by my window gazing into my garden, where the fireflies embroider their mysterious signs on the velvet dark." Isn't that sweet - told by "A father of a family and owner of a house" (I hope you know Tove Jansson).
    We call them 'glowworms' in Germany, though I know they are beetles - very clever in using their light, and as I always thought cybernetics a fascinating science, I was not astounded that engineers copied the technique of the fireflies on white light emitting diodes.
    But of course I am convinced your explanation should be transfered to human beings too, think of all the bright people who will like each other!

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    1. Yes, I know a little of Tove Jansson, a lady of great gentle brilliance and an unforgettable smile. And thank you, dear Brigitta, for your suggestion of lighting up people too. It will be something of an electronics challenge but I'll put my whole mind to it!

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    2. I asked Norma and she said "Finn Family Moomintroll" was among the books she read to, and later with, our children.

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  10. I have no doubt that fireflies like you, but the real reason they glow is based on their affinity for alcohol. I mean, just think about it. That's why we say someone is "lit" when they overimbibe.

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    1. There is much evidence to recommend your theory, Susan. It begins with a "buzz", proceeds to "lit" and I try to stop imbibing before rising into the dark and floating aimlessly over a wet lawn.

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