Farewell to summer leads to uptick in Texas fireflies



“They look cool,” she said.

The Victoria Advocate reports Zailey and her cousin recently caught lightning bugs in their front yard. It was her first time capturing the luminescent beetles.

“We let them go afterward so they could get air,” she said.

As summer dies down, fireflies are making a reappearance in Texas.

The resurgence is likely because of a wet year, said Texas firefly researcher, Ben Pfeiffer. Further north, fireflies only occur during the spring. But while a warmer autumn may delay Texans’ taste for pumpkin spice, the temperature and soil moisture brings a second firefly season.

2015 and 2016 have been banner years for fall fireflies.

“This year it’s just been really favorable for them,” Pfeiffer said. “The good news is that next spring we’ll probably have a lot of fireflies as well.”

The most prominent species of firefly this fall has been the photinus pyralis, also known as the big dipper firefly because of its J-shaped flash pattern.

Fireflies flash to attract mates.

Typically, females don’t fly. Perched on a branch or piece of grass, they wait for males that have a good show of fitness, meaning they’ll be able to provide a lot of offspring, Pfeiffer said.

If she likes his flash, she’ll flash back at him and the couple will come together and mate. The female firefly then lays her fertilized eggs in damp, soft soil. Female fireflies will mate several times, laying eggs in several locations.

The eggs grow and become larva. Both the eggs and larva glow, Pfeiffer said. But it can be difficult to find the larva and eggs of the common firefly in the soil.

“You kind of have to get into the mud to find the larva,” he said. “But some species crawl along the surface, and you can see them glow.”

Firefly larva feed on earthworms, snails and dead insects. They’re predacious, eating whatever they can get their grubby hands on.

This year, the abundance of snails and the like created an accelerated schedule, bringing a larger population of fireflies.

While Victoria residents are likely seeing the big dipper firefly now, there are other species of fireflies in the region during the spring. One example is the photuris genus, which can mimic the flash patterns of other fireflies.

The female photuris mimics flash patterns to entrap other species of male fireflies, which she eats in order to acquire a defensive steroid. Jumping spiders are less likely to eat photuris with more of this steroid.

Photuris are almost twice as big as big dipper fireflies and highly predacious, Pfeiffer said.

“There was a famous researcher that once said if photuris was the size of a house cat, people would be scared to go outside at night,” he said. “These are cool fireflies though. We call them big scaries.”

The femmes fatales don’t hurt humans or other animals but are fun to watch, and can be lured in with a pen light, he said.

Seeing the bugs while their still around this fall requires getting outside during dusk, Texas entomologist Mike Quinn pointed out.

Lightning bugs aren’t out for very long. They start glowing about 7 p.m. and go dark before 9 p.m.

“We’re not out as much as we used to be,” he said. “When I grew up, there were three channels and there wasn’t anything called the internet. They’re still out there. You just have to be out there when they’re out there.”


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