Every season to me has its own unique appeal to it. I must admit though I am very partial to summer. I know it’s hot, but summer reminds me a lot of being a kid. There is just something about the sights and sounds of summer that that I truly enjoy.
One sight that I love to see in the summer is lightning bugs. With just the sight of the lightning bugs, I was reminded of youthful carefree summers, catching lightning bugs in a jar just for fun.
Lightning bugs, or fireflies as they are sometimes called, are not only reminders of childhood play but reassurance of environmental health as well. Lightning bugs or fireflies are not simply bugs and are not flies. They are beetles and part of a scientific family that contains the largest order of living things, 290,000 species at last count. In fact, there are about 136 different species of fireflies illuminating Earth’s summer nights.
These night lights in the sky have light-producing organs at the rear of the abdomen. Within these structures, two chemicals combine to produce light in a process that’s virtually 100 percent energy efficient, so no heat is produced. The resulting light may be greenish, orange or yellow. The light given off by fireflies during their abdominal flashes is called bioluminescence. Although other insects can produce light, lightning bugs are the only insects that can flash their light on and off in distinct signals.
The summer evening shows that you see are males “cruising” for female lightning bugs. The males’ flash patterns of light scanning for mates. The females signal in response from perches on vegetation or in or near the ground. When the male sees the female’s flash, he continues to signal and moves closer. Each firefly species has a distinctive flash pattern, lasting for a specific time and with a definite interval between pulses. This allows males and females to identify each other.
Georgia has several dozen firefly species, ranging from less than half an inch to almost an inch long. Lightning bugs are easy to locate, just go outside during the evening and watch for small twinkling lights. Good places to find lightning bugs are pastures or lawns and at the edge of the woods or streams.
If you are a kid or a kid at heart, go out and watch some lightning bugs one evening and if you need a pleasant reminder of your childhood, catch a few in a jar, just be sure to gently release them after a couple of minutes. I’ll bet if you do this it will bring a smile to your face.
Another thing I love about summer is the cry of the cicadas. If you are not aware of what I am talking about, this is the high pitched sound you can hear just about all day long anywhere in our area. My mom always told me the cicadas were crying for rain when you could hear their singing.
So exactly what is a cicada? There are two basic types of cicadas: annual and periodic. The periodic come in two basic types: a 13-year or 17-year. Probably what you are hearing now are the annual cicadas. I have heard the annual cicadas referred to as “Dog-Day cicadas,” which some folks call “July flies.” These cicadas can take from two to five years to complete their metamorphosis. The different broods of these annual cicadas overlap, so the noisy adults are present every year. The nymphs develop in the soil and emerge in mid-summer. You hear much of their racket in the dog days of August. If you are curious enough to look, periodical cicadas usually have red eyes and annual cicadas have black eyes. If you have ever found the shed skins of these creatures, you know the brown crunchy pork rind looking skins, then you have probably discovered the shed of an annual cicada.
I absolutely love summer with so many interesting sights and sounds. Go ahead — find your inner kid and hunt for lightning bugs and listen to the cicadas’ summer song. Now if I could just find my slip and slide!
Bill Starr is Sumter County Extension coordinator, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Contact him at 924-4476.