Light ‘Em Up.

I’d always assumed lightning bugs–also known as “fireflies” by the utterly pretentious–could be found in Britain as well as the United States. There are legends there of the will-o’-the-wisp that would lure unwary travelers into bogs and drown them, although that was probably swamp gas. And there are glow-worms. There’s a glow-worm in Roald Dahl’s James And The Giant Peach. She’s a pretty minor character and I think Dahl forgot about her once most of the action moved to the top of the peach, but it’s not as though bioluminescent insects are unknown on the other side of the pond. So it kind of threw me when, as we were walking up the driveway to the house where I was staying, my British friend stopped and said, “Chris…why are there little lights all over your yard?”

We’d had a few drinks and he wondered if I’d slipped something in his beer while he wasn’t looking. In retrospect I wish I’d strung him along a little bit and asked, “What? What the hell are you talking about?” Instead I reached down and scooped up a lightning bug. And it was a good opportunity to tell him about the time when I was a kid and filled a jar with lightning bugs then turned them loose in the house. My parents spent half the night catching them. Then when they finally went to bed they lay there in the dark and could see the occasional flash.

This was in Indiana where a bill to make the lightning bug the state insect. It never went anywhere. Regardless of your political views how can you not embrace that? There’s a U-Haul trailer design of a giant lightning bug that specifically says “Indiana”.

Maybe it’s because they’re sneaky. I set a camera out one night when there seemed to be hundreds of them out. No matter where I put it they seemed to say, “Okay, we’re being watched. Let’s move over there!”


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  1. kdcol

    Aww… lightning bugs. I have fond memories of west Texas and lightning bugs. My parents had property in Fort Davis with a little beat-to-hell bullet trailer. We captured one in a jar and it kept me up ALL night. I guess you don’t realize how bright that little light actually is until you’re trying to sleep. Ha.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      They really can be very bright, but it’s weird how little that light actually lights up. I’d put a hundred or more in a jar and blink a flashlight at them to make them light up. The whole jar would glow, but it wasn’t bright enough that you could use it as a lantern.

  2. Gina W.

    OK, this is horrible and barbaric but when I was a little girl, we would catch lightning bugs, give the poor creatures to an adult (usually male) and have them remove the “flasher” part. Then we would stick that part on our fingers and having glowing “diamonds” on our hands that made us feel fancy. At the time it was SO cool. I never thought about the lightning bug being killed. 🙁

    We get lightning bugs in our yard in the summers and it’s always a little bit magical to see them even now. Where my parents used to live there was a small thicket of trees that must have hosted a lightning bug colony. When I would take our dog for a walk at night, I would always pause in front of those trees because the flashing lights were so beautiful. I always wondered if fairies or some other magical creatures were living there.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That’s so horrible that you’d have to have an adult pull the flashing part off the lightning bugs for you. I did it myself. I did worse things too. I put lightning bugs in the freezer until they stopped moving then took them outside and revived them in the hot blast from the back of the air conditioner. I would leave them in longer and longer to see how long it would take before they couldn’t be revived. Yes, I was a junior Dr. Mengele.
      They are really beautiful and one of my favorite signs of summer, but because of how I treated them as a kid I feel a little guilty when I look at them.

  3. TwerlaP

    I live in North Carolina, wayyy out in the middle of nowhere–I mean, my nearest neighbors are about a mile away. And the next house is almost another mile.
    Anyway, shortly after I moved in last year, a friend came out to watch the meteor showers. But…there were so many “lightning bugs” we could barely see the stars! We certainly couldn’t tell if it was a meteor or a bug.
    I always feel guilty with spiders. I think they have a vendetta against me, cuz I’ve sprayed and swatted so many. When I was little I always thought they had a kinda spider telepathy thing going on. You know, like they send out a picture of the giant about to stomp them.
    (who am I kidding…I still think that)

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Not being able to tell the difference between a meteor and a lightning bug must have been incredible. They may behave differently in the middle of nowhere but I’ve noticed that lightning bugs seem to go to bed fairly early. They’re active from dusk to around nine or ten o’clock. After that I only see an occasional blink.
      And the spiders probably do have telepathy, at least spiders of the same species. They’ve likely all come from the same egg sac, so they have a sort of twin-sibling telepathy going on. And if that’s not disturbing enough check out the disturbing message Gina at Endearingly Wacko received, probably written by spiders.

      1. TwerlaP

        Synchronicity…I just came across a story about synchronous fireflies–they offer a tour at the Smoky Mtns Ntnl Park!!! Get your tickets now-Two weeks only!!!!
        (or you can just come to my house and prolly see the same thing)

        1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

          Wow. How the heck do they even know they’re synchronous? There are so many that statistically a bunch of them must flash together, but I see that these are really big groups that synchronize. That’s really cool. And the Smoky Mountains are just beautiful and full of other cool stuff. Since you live in the middle of nowhere we could probably find the same cool stuff around your house too.


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