How fireflies light up the summer sky


TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) – Today we’re talking about lightning bugs, better known as fireflies.

And no, they aren’t flies like their name implies in fact, they have something pretty big in common with that popular British rock band.

“They’re beetles, beetles, beetles, beetles are an insect,” said Peter Coppinger, PhD, Associate Professor of Biology at Rose-Hulman.

A field of fireflies is a majestic site, the radiant glow of hundreds of lightning bugs beaming back signals in the dark just like a lighthouse during a humid summer night. But have you ever wondered how or why they light up?

“The mechanism in which the light is produced involves two major players, one is called luciferin and that reacts with an energy-rich molecule called ‘ATP’ in the presence of oxygen they interact and light up the specialized organs,” explained Coppinger.

Now there’s definitely a science behind it, and there is even more.

“One way we can differentiate between the species is in the pattern of the flashes, some flash 4 times, some flash 2 times and some just fly around lit,”

Fireflies use the light to their advantage. Their blinking is actually unique to each beetle; they use the ability to help transmit signals to attract mates, sort of like a wink.

“The males will flash in the sky and then the females will flash back,” explained Coppinger.

And most of the time attracts your attention, too. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you confirm your email address and acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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