Step outside at night and enjoy the show

Published 3:30 pm Friday, August 4, 2017

In my younger days, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a few good rock concerts, although not as many as I would have liked. I still have a few bands on my bucket list that I would like to see. No matter who the band was, there was always a common theme with all the shows. Of course, there was the music, but there was always an added element of lights and lasers to enhance the experience.
Here lately, because it’s been so hot, I have been walking my dogs mostly at night when it is somewhat cooler. I must say the concert going on at night rivals most shows I saw when I was much younger. What concert you ask? Well, summer nights in our area are a concert not to be missed.
The concerts I am talking about are performed by all the night critters in our area. The opening act is the cry of the cicadas. No, not a cover band mimicking some famous band. 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. I find this sound very comforting. My mom always told me the cicadas were crying for rain when you could hear their singing (obviously, their cries are working this year).
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 a 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 — the brown crunchy pork rind-looking skins — then you have probably discovered the shed of an annual cicada.
OK, the cicadas are providing the music, but what about the light show? One sight that I love to see in the summer is lightning bugs. With just the sight of the lightning bugs, I am reminded of youthful care-free summers, catching lighting 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 maybe 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 what you see are males “cruising” for female lighting 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.
I absolutely love summer with so many interesting sights and sounds. Go ahead and find the concert around your home and hunt for lightning bugs and listen to the cicadas’ summer song. I can guarantee no rock band can do it any better.

Bill Starr is Sumter County Extension coordinator and ANR agent, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Contact him at 229-924-4476.