Fireworks and Fireflies in Our Indiana Backyards
Writer / Nancy Craig
A highlight of growing up on an Indiana farm in the summer was running across the fields catching lightning bugs. The fireflies swarmed over the long grasses of the pony lots around our farmhouse. They made the summer evening magical as we caught them and put them in a mason jar with holes punched into the lid.
So many Hoosiers have fond memories of fireflies that Indiana may soon declare it our state insect. Right now, there are bills in the Indiana Senate (SB 95) and House (HB 1243) to make the Say’s firefly, Pyractomena angulate, Indiana’s state insect. There are more than 40 species of fireflies in Indiana, and most of us are more familiar with the firefly, Photinus pyralis, or the big-dipper lightning bug. Their light pattern flashes like the shape of the big dipper star constellation.
Our backyard is the perfect place to watch lightning bugs. The fireflies like the trees, shrubs and longer grass along the tree line. My friend, Vicky Koch, who is a missionary in Rwanda, Africa, just loved seeing the lightning bugs when she and her husband, Mike, visited us a few summers ago. The Kochs are from the state of Washington where they did not have lightning bugs, and even though they have seen many unusual bugs and animals in Africa, she still asks about our Indiana fireflies.
My great nephews, Max and Eli, have enjoyed learning about the science behind (no pun intended) how the light in firefly happens. Google Tom Turpin, Professor at Purdue University Entomology Department, for his explanation of this chemical reaction called bioluminescence. The Firefly site, firefly.org, has all kinds of information on the lightning bugs. In fact, even though we call them lightning bugs and fireflies, they are not bugs or flies but beetles.
The Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley wrote about the firefly in the poem he called “The Beetle,” now called “Dusk Song”:
“The toadstool bulges through the weeds,
And lavishly to left and right
The fireflies, like golden seeds,
Are sown about the night.”
Over the summer, my great nephews and nieces will help me relive the magic of my childhood lightning bug days, and then late in the fall, we will look for the glowing firefly larvae and remember the song, “Glow Little Glow-worm, Glow.” This July as we celebrate with fireworks, take the time to enjoy the quieter living light show of the fireflies.
The Gardening Nana
Note: To learn more about making the firefly our state insect and support Kayla and the students of the Cumberland Elementary School, visit facebook.com/firefly2016.