on Staten Island
In a recent stroll across campus, we saw our first bright yellow Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilla glaucus) (photo at left) winging its way in lazy circles amid the clover in front of 1N, the Computer Science building. Perhaps the sweet-smelling Lilac and Honeysuckle bushes -- between 2N and 3N -- and the Queen Anne's Lace -- quite abundant on campus in the verges -- are attracting them.
Leaving my office just after nightfall one evening last week, I was thrilled to catch the glimmer of a group of fireflies(Photuris pyralis) in the same place as I walked to my car. Hovering in the cool shade of one of the small trees that line the walk were bright intermittent flashes of their familiar yellow luminescence. When I was little, we used to call them "lightning bugs" and we caught them in empty peanut butter jars; Mom had punched holes in the lids with an icepick so they could breathe, and I used to try to think what plant they would want in there with them so they wouldn't feel hungry. I always wanted to keep them overnight as a nightlight, which is what I imagined a real Pirate on a tropical beach would have done. I remember the thrill of catching them in my cupped hands, gently so they would not be harmed, and then peeking between my fingers to see them light up the tiny space inside my fist. I always was surprised that they were not "hot." Then we would keep them for a short while in the jar until Dad told us it was time for the "lightning bugs" to go have their dinner. Seeing fireflies makes me think of sticky humid carefree evenings when I was very young.
Now that I'm older, I'm still fascinated by the firefly's ability to make "lightning," and even more so by the knowledge of how it does so: through the combination in their abdomens of two unique chemicals -- the substrate luciferin and the enzyme luciferase -- with oxygen as the fuel for their bioluminesence. Also interesting to me is the way that firefly sex shapes their display -- males hover about 1 foot off the ground, flashing away to get the females' attention, while females cling to the tops of blades of grass while emitting "come-hither" Aldus-lamp flashes. Females often devour males after mating, too.
For more information about butterflies and fireflies:
Professors Donald W. Hall and Jerry F. Butler, of The University of Florida's Department of Entomology and Nematology, present Tiger Swallowtail Feature page, with tons of good information
U.S. Geological Survey's Children's Butterfly Site, with coloring pages and photos! (and source for the photo above to the right)
BlitzWorld's Butterflies page, with lots of images.
University of Florida Entymologist James E. Lloyd's Fireflyer Companion and Letter
John Foltz, of The University of Florida's Department of Entomology and Nematology, presents his Firefly Site, source for the James E. Lloyd image to the right above.
Attorney at Law Donald Ray Burger's Firefly Site, the motherlode of firefly information on the WWW, including a listing of firefly sightings around the world.