By Nova Regalario
Contrary to what their name would like you to believe, fireflies aren’t actually flies but are beetles from the Lampyridae family.
Their bodies illuminate using bioluminescent light, which they use to communicate with each other, attract mates or food, and signal an alarm. The light—a sight to behold when they fly in numbers at night—comes from an organ on the underside of their abdomen where oxygen reacts with a light-emitting biological pigment (called luciferin) in the presence of an enzyme (luciferase) to emit elementary light particles (photons).
What sets fireflies apart from other insects is that they give off a friendly vibe. Unlike most insects, fireflies neither sting or bite and they don’t prey on crops. Instead of being a garden insect, fireflies help bring magic in a dark night with their lights.
It’s that magic that helped me establish a strong connection with fireflies. It began in one summer I spent with my family in a far-flung community in General Nakar, Quezon. I got lost while we were trekking in the Sierra Madre forest, losing sight of my neighbors as I unknowingly increased my distance from them.
I continued walking, hoping that I would run into them at some point, but night time fell and they were still nowhere in sight. Trekking alone was tiring and with the darkness making it dangerous to continue my search for the group, I decided to take a rest and sleep under an old tree.
Another day passed by but I was still not able to find my way back to my group, although walking through the forest did help me find a stream where I spent the night. The fireflies that illuminated the area helped my second night of being lost better.
They crowned the trees near my makeshift rock bed; it was a sight to behold. The fireflies gracefully showcased their light and shined down on me on my last night in the heart of the Sierra Madre mountain.
Since then, the child in me is always looking for them; be it in the mountains, foothills around the grassland, or coastal areas. But it always saddens me whenever people would say it’s been a long time since fireflies lit up these areas.
Their increasing absence comes in the midst of climate change along with other threats like habitat loss, light pollution, pesticide use, poor water quality, drought, and invasive species taking over their habitat. Fireflies also have a hard time multiplying due to the increased use of camera lights, cellphones, and vehicle headlights that interfere with their mating signals.
If there’s one thing I learned during those nights in the Sierra Madre forest – there are still tons to learn and appreciate about fireflies. I will continue to seek a better understanding of these enchanting creatures and how I can help in protecting both them and the habitat they live in.
May the force of their lights continue to shine for them and for us.