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southern comfort a Journal of Short Stories by Judy Ausley

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The Mystery of Fireflies

here are some times during summer where mysteries in nature often shine. One being the existence of the firefly in the south. Every child at a certain age is mystified by these little dazzling beetles and some adults ponder as well. Some call them lightning bugs but for many the question remains: where do they come from and what good do they serve in the environment? Several years ago, while I was writing in Boone, I learned about the little flittering firefly and the popularity and abundance of them in that High Country town that summer.

There are 1,900 species of fireflies. At one time Boone held an annual summer Firefly Festival which was a big draw each year and a good time for artisans who lived in that part of the mountains to show their wares to the public. The big party for fireflies is no longer held in Boone. But other communities in the southern states brag about their abundance where they live. A firefly flew into my bedroom window recently and my cat, “Precious Boy,” perched there as part of his nightly ritual of keeping an eye on the outside, almost took flight as he attempted to capture the darn thing. Bugs, I think, were put here to fascinate and tease cats, because most feline beauties that decorate our lives daily spend most of their days sleeping and seeking to capture bugs. It is fun to watch, for sure! When I was a kid in Florida my brother and I used to play in the yard and catch the little flashing things and he would contain them in old jars. I thought that was cruel, because even as a child, I believed that all creatures should be allowed to roam and live in peace in their natural environments. I still believe this. I contacted the farmer’s almanac and that led me to Florida entomologist, Dr. James Lloyd at the University of Florida, where he has conducted and researched the illusive firefly and it’s origin for years. Lloyd said at the time that he thinks the insect has no respect and not much recognition. Lloyd explained the mystery this way: Fireflies are born from eggs that are laid by their mother in moist areas

under a leaf. They become adults very soon and live from a week to a month. Wow. Imagine a lifetime that short. The fireflies are more prevalent in the Southern states because generally they are drawn to damp, humid environments. In Asheville this season we have had humid and rainy weather, hence we have an abundance of the little lights in the air this summer. There are 1900 species of fireflies. Some live in other countries, especially those with rainy and damp environments. Fireflies use their flashing lights to find mates. Males flash their lights in a certain pattern as they fly and receive correct communication messages from females generally perched on some blade of grass as they lay wait in the night. It is a true love game of the two. How do they light up? A chemical reaction occurs inside the firefly. Two species mix together to make light. Light that comes from a living thing is bioluminescence. Fireflies today are being used in many universities’ labs and research institutions in an attempt to see just how these little creatures can contribute to the medical community and mankind. Lloyd thinks they are not flies at all, they are beetles. It is a life and love game for fireflies and a delight for some of us that study and read the constant change in nature today. It is true for so many species of animals who have much longer lives than the

by Judy

Ausley

simply beautiful fireflies in the night. Lloyd may call them beetles, but I prefer fireflies because it is more romantic! Kids and moms and pops, capturing these wonderful specimens and confining them to a jar to watch is okay for a few minutes but, when you are finished learning, please let them flitter back into their natural environment. They are not intended to be trapped and left to die in a jar. These little insects that light your space in summer deserve to be allowed to fly free. Sources and facts in this article were taken from “Nature’s Living Lights,” The World Book Encyclopedia, and the Farmer’s Almanac yearly editions.

Writer Judy Ausley has been a reporter with newspapers in NC for 40 years. She retired in 2005 and continues to freelance at her home in Asheville. She can be contacted by e-mail at Judyausley@aol.com. If you know a character in Asheville who has not had a conventional life, put them in touch with Judy for an article in this column, Southern Comfort.

Inspirations from the Forest Pisgah Forest in Plein Aire Art Exhibit

Saturday, July 9 – Winged Creatures Twilight Tour

Displayed through July in the Forest Discovery Center. The exhibit begins July 1 with a “Paint Out/Teach Out” event. Plein aire artists will be on site capturing the light and scenery at the Cradle of Forestry. Raindate is July 6.

Moths, bats, owls — these are just some of the animals active at night when many of us are settled in for the evening. This wheelchair accessible program, held from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., focuses on nocturnal life in the woods. Cost for this special evening event is $6 for adults and $3 for youth.

Sundays in July – Songcatchers Music Series Showcases acoustic music with roots in the Southern Appalachians. Concerts take place in the outdoor amphitheatre from 4 to 6 p.m. when weather permits, otherwise in the Forest Discovery Center. Picnics are welcome. Admission is $6 for ages 16 and older, $3 for youth 15 and under.

The Cradle of Forestry is located on Hwy. 276 in the Pisgah National Forest, six miles north of Looking Glass Falls and four miles south of the Blue Ridge Parkway. For more information call (828) 877-3130 or visit www. cradleofforestry.org. If You Go

Vol. 14, No. 11 — Rapid River ArtS & CULTURE Magazine — July 2011 31

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