How to - Gardening with Kids

Kids and fireflies

Catch some flashy nightlife with your own firefly lantern!

About 40 Pyrophorus noctilucus, amazingly bright fireflies from South and Central America, placed in a lantern, give off as much light as a candle. Canadian fireflies don't give off that much light, but you can still catch them in a clean glass jar with a screw-top lid to make a cool lantern.
Begin by punching a few holes in the lid to let air in. Then, sit in a spot where you see fireflies flashing and count out one female's signal pattern, saying to yourself "Mississippi one, Mississippi two…." Flick a small flashlight on and off in the same pattern and soon a few male beetles will come to investigate. (If all you have is a large flashlight, try placing the lens flat on the ground. When you see a male's signal, tilt the lens up to give him a flash.) As one comes closer, its flashes will become weaker. Keep flashing the light and the male will land nearby and walk to the light. A firefly or two may even land on your hand. Catch as many as you can and put them in the jar. You can also catch females who are just sitting there.

Before you let the fireflies go, transform the lantern into a flash accelerator. Dip the jar into a pot of lukewarm water. As the temperature inside the jar rises, the fireflies will flash faster. The higher the temperature, the shorter the period between flashes. You can continue to raise the temperature gradually by adding more warm water to the pot.

Related Web Sites
• A Beacon in the Night

• The Firefly Files

• Close-up view of Photinus pyralis

• Bioluminescence

• Firefly or Lightning Bug

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