A question about lightning bugs

…or fireflies, as you out-of-towners say. :wink:

Now, keep in mind even before we’ve started that I am not in any way advocating animal cruelty. Nor do I condone this practice even slightly, which is why I’m asking this question in October, so people won’t be tempted to grab a lightning bug and try it themselves. But some of you surely must have done this as sprogs: smashing lightning bugs onto people so that the people will briefly have glowing bug corpses on them. My brother often did this to me when we were small, but I’ve quite forgotten a number of salient details, and so I ask solely out of intellectual curiosity:

  1. Approximately how long does the glow last? Does it differ substantially if the bugs are smashed onto cloth as opposed to the skin?

  2. Must the insect be lit up at the time of death/smashing for the glow to occur? I’m thinking not, but I can’t remember at all.

And no, no, no, do not do this to any real live lightning bugs. I’m simply asking you to recall your childhood misdeeds. “Every lightning bug is precious/every lightning bug is great,” etc. and all that jazz.


  • ahem *

Having gotten that out of the way, I have noticed that when a lightning bug plays kamikaze on the windshield, the glow lasts around 3 - 5 seconds (estimating by memory).
I cannot think of any reason why the duration of the glow would change, based on the material into which the insect was smashed.

Deliberately killing one of the neatest bugs in creation? YOU FIENDS!

[/google ad hijack]Bed bug control products?[/gah]

I seem to remember the glow lasting several minutes. They did not have to be lit in order to glow when shmooshed, but IIRC the prevailing thought was the glow would last longer if they were lit at the moment of, um, the moment when they passed, shall we say.

I now live where there are no lightning bugs. My children have never seen them. (Or collected them in a mayonnaise jar to light their room, or–that other thing.)

How lucky, then, that you can scroll right down to the GOOGLE AD and buy some for your kids! Buying fireflies over the 'net - that is just so odd.

I miss them, too :frowning:

Yeah, that ad got me. I actually clicked on it. (Big disappointment–they aren’t real lightning bugs. Some of them, in fact, were bumblebees, and not even real bumblebees either.)

But you can buy crickets and ladybugs–why not lightning bugs?

Crickets are food for many reptilian pets and ladybugs are often bought by gardeners for plants/vegetables.

This past summer I was in bed, asleep, when I felt something crawling on me. Instinctively, I swatted at myself. It was the middle of the night, and the room was very dark, so I did I little freak out dance when I looked down and the only thing I could see was glowing alien goo spreading up and down my arm.

Then I realized what happened and I was sad. Poor little bug. I think he lit up when I smashed him, but I can’t be sure.

I remember, as a kid, smashing two or three of them around the perimiter of my wrist to make a glowing “bracelet”. So I think the glowing lasted at least a couple of minutes, long enough to catch another firefly and finish the bracelet.

I also remember waiting for them to light up to smash them, but I’m not sure if you had to do that, or if it just made them glow longer.

They feed ladybugs to their plants and vegetables? That is almost as monstrous as the destruction of lightning bugs.

Once my brother and I ran around smacking lightning bugs out of the air with a wiffle bat. They would make a little glowing arc as their smushed up corpses flew through the air. We were young and cruel.

I always liked them though, and catching lightning bugs then letting them go was a favorite summer pastime. Sometimes one would get into my room and at night it would be nice to just lay there and watch it glow. Another thing I remember is that, to me at least, lightning bugs always had a very distinctive odor. Not bad, just instantly recognizeable.

We don’t have them here in Seattle and I miss 'em.

That’s true! They smell like dirt!

Ah, memories…

Back in the 60’s there was a persistent urban legand that scientists would buy all the fireflies you could catch. We caught a lot, but I don’t recall anybody getting paid.

As far using them as body paint, we routinely applied them to our faces in patterns we imagined Indian warriors would use. :eek: It seemed like a good idea at the time. (ISLAGIATT)

Sigh. I’ve lived in California all my life; I’ve never seen a lightning bug. :frowning:

I love lightning bugs. And I love, having gone to various schools in Pennsylvania and New York, when the Californians get out here and freak out at the flashes of light.

That said, though, don’t let them fool you with their pretty ways. Some of them are ice-cold seductionists and killers, the femme fatale fireflies, imitating the glow sequences of other species and then killing and eating the hapless males they lure to their deaths. And those glowing chemicals? Luciferin and luciferase. Probably named after the DARK LORD OF FIREFLIES, I imagine. They sure are fascinating little critters :slight_smile:

Related question: what eats lightening bugs?
I lurve lightening bugs–they are summer to me. We call 'em fire flies here, too.

sinjin - There’s a scientist that comes to Middle Tennessee every year to buy fireflies. I’ve seen him on the TV news. He goes to rural areas and sets up a table and the residents come with the dead bugs in ziplock bags. He weighs the bags and pays per ounce.


They feed on plant lice, you tom-tomndebb! :slight_smile:

I don’t have time to look it up, but I’ve heard that fire ants eat lightning bug larva (which live in the ground,) and so they are on the decline as fire ants invade the U.S.

Wow. This particular, err, scientific experiment, never occurred to me. Woulda been cool.

Another advocate of the Whiffle Bat method. My brothers and I used to do the same thing (of course, we in our 20s and pretty drunk at the time).