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Posts Tagged ‘glow worms’

author is autistic adult. Wikimedia Commons image

May 2017. Tonight I sat for a while on the front porch watching little pinpoints of light, bobbing up and down among the upper canopy of leaves. I remembered when we were children, catching lightning bugs. That’s what we still call them, though technically they are fireflies. Frankly, I think the children’s name is more descriptive. We put them in jars and set them on the dresser or bureau and fell asleep watching them blink. And after that I suppose Mama or Grandma came for the jar and turned them loose. I don’t remember that part.

Many years afterward, around the Fourth of July I happened to be a guest at a home perched high on a grassy ridge, sitting on the patio as night drew on. Here and there in the tall grass below there was a wink, and then a blink as the lightning bugs awoke from their daytime slumber and prepared for their performance. And what a show it was! In just minutes, hundreds and hundreds of those bright blinking little creatures flew up from the tall grass below in a dazzling display of tiny blinking, winking, dancing lights. No fireworks display downtown could “hold a light” (to use a mountain expression) to that show. But too soon it was over. The little bugs scattered for their nighttime destinations in less than five minutes, and only an ordinary sprinkling of them remained.

But that was not the last time those talented little insects would delight my senses. One evening in May a few years ago it happened again, and not the way you might think. I wrote an article about it for publication in Yahoo Voices. And now that Yahoo Voices is no more, I can publish it again. Here it is:

The Magic of Glow Worms

When God said “Let there be light!” the fireflies took him seriously. Faithful to their calling, they arrive every spring, in mid-May, and with their tiny lanterns, light up my corner of the world — a temperate rain forest in the southern Appalachians. We normally get plus or minus a hundred inches of rain a year, good for lots of creatures, including these beautiful bugs. Because, before they make their presence known, winking and blinking, skimming along above lawns and meadows, and draping themselves like twinkling garlands over the branches of trees, they are hidden away, wingless creatures, confined to damp and shadowy places. Fireflies, or lightning bugs, are beautiful and entertaining to watch, and wonderful fun for children. But even better is to see them before they get their wings. On a dark night in the woods, it is an almost magical experience.

There are thousands of species of this little beetle and they are found almost all over the world. Adult fireflies live only long enough to perpetuate themselves. They mate and lay their eggs, and after that they are soon gone. The eggs hatch quickly but the larva can take almost a year to develop; in some cases, years. The larva in our area typically live in the soil and leaf litter of the woodlands. Like their adult counterparts, the larva are luminescent; we know them as glow worms. It does not follow; however, that all glow worms are firefly larva. There are also other types of insect larva that glow.

If you have fireflies or lightning bugs in your area, you will also have glow worms. Since they are larva they don’t fly about, and unless you are hunting for them you are not likely to find one in the daytime. They survive long cold winters in the woods, under the leaves, in the bark of trees, rotting stumps, and the like. You will not find any in a dry and arid place. You will probably never see a glow worm in a city or town where it never gets totally dark. If the climate of the town is suitable, they will probably be there, but to see a glow worm you need near total darkness, such as a night on the dark of the moon.

I was fortunate to see a stunning display of glow worms one evening in May. I had seen glow worms before. At my former home a few miles away I regularly witnessed tiny gleamings at the edge of my yard when coming home from work late at night. I even found a few small glow worms behind our house near the chicken yard. Both these finds were pretty insignificant; I didn’t know how beautiful firefly larva would be.

I had been working earlier that day about a half mile up the mountain from our house raking some of last fall’s leaves. At dusk I rode a golf cart up the gravel road to my work site and burned some of the twigs and leaves I had raked up earlier. My job took longer than I thought it would; I was working under a security light and did not realize how dark it was getting. When I finally finished I boarded the golf cart to ride back. Since it did not have lights I found myself in near pitch darkness as I drove away from the security light and into the woods on my way back down the hill. All I could see was a faint smudge that I knew represented the gray gravel in the center of the road. I slowed my speed down to a crawl for fear I would drive off the embankment. And then I began to notice:

The low road bank on my right glimmered with light, not little pinpoints such as I had seen before in the yard, small gleamings on a rainy night. No, these were bold and dazzling, like handfuls of rhinestones strewn out on black velvet. Right away I knew they were pupating fireflies, the largest and loveliest glow worms I had ever seen. Slowly I passed, having to watch also for the dim impression of the road. The darkness was nearly total. In awe I drove the golf cart, slowly, slowly, past distant moons and suns, fiery comets, planets and constellations, myriads of tiny creatures arranged in scintillating patterns of light. It seemed the stars had fallen from heaven and lay in bright splendor upon the forest floor…No night sky was ever more lovely than this lowly insect’s brilliant display. Some of them, having newly found their wings, arose lazily from their leafy beds, and flew away, like shooting stars in slow motion.

Too soon the enchantment was over. The pale yellow of the porch light loomed up ahead. Five minutes more and my husband would have come up the hill in the car to find me. Five minutes more….and I would never have known……Oh… that is frightening!

 

 

 

 

 

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