The other night I was sitting in the backyard with my daughter Lucy. We were watching fireflies, aka lightning bugs. I tried catching one so she could see one up close, but chasing down a firefly in the dark with one hand while holding a baby in the other proved trickier than expected.
Deciding to just take in the scene, we sat on the deck and watched them go about their evening routine. Questions started popping into my head. What makes them glow? What purpose does the glowing serve, anyway? And where do they go during the day? After putting Lucy to bed, I decided I was going to do a little research online. After only about 10 minutes of web surfing, uncovered these interesting facts:
- Lightning bugs are actually a type of beetle. A ridiculously awesome flying and glowing beetle.
- The glowing is used as an attraction strategy in the mating process. So when your backyard is lit up by a bunch of lightning bugs, it means they’ve turned it into a nightclub.
- The insects are able to glow when they take in oxygen and, inside special cells, combine it with a substance called luciferin to produce light referred to as bioluminescence. (I want that!)
- Amazingly, almost 100% of the firefly’s light is given off as light. By comparison, a normal electric lightbulb gives off only 10% of its energy as light, while 90% is wasted as heat.
- Fireflies are nocturnal, so during the day, they’re sleeping.
- For some unknown reason, fireflies that glow are typically not found west of Kansas.
- They only live for about two months. (Which doesn’t make me feel so bad about scraping them along the sidewalk to create a flourescent smear when I was a kid.)*
Now, I believe there are three types of people in the world:
1) People who can sit in their backyard watching fireflies and never once wonder anything about them. These people are ridden with Adultitis. Their childlike curiosity apparently leaked out of their ear while they were sleeping one night while happily dreaming about filling out tax forms.
2) People who can sit in their backyard watching fireflies, have a few questions pop in their head, and do nothing about it. This is where the majority of people live. They have questions but don’t pursue any answers because they’re too busy, get distracted by something else, or rationalize that the answer has no bearing on their life whatsoever and conclude that it’s not worth the effort.
3) People who can sit in their backyard watching fireflies, have a few questions pop in their head, and go get answers. This is the Adultitis-free crowd. These are the folks who follow the example of children, who ask questions until they find an answer. In this particular example, I happen to fit here, but I must admit that I find myself in group number two way too often.
In our goal-driven, achievement-oriented society, we get caught up in the thinking that everything we do has to serve some practical end. But every aspect of our lives doesn’t have to be a step in some larger objective. And just because something is urgent doesn’t necessarily mean it’s important.
When we only follow the well-traveled freeways leading to known destinations, sometimes we find ourselves at a dead end.
When we don’t ever venture down the little side paths of life, the ones that don’t seem to lead anywhere particularly important, we run the risk of missing out on some wonderful experiences. Maybe they’ll lead to an innovative breakthrough on a problem we’ve been struggling to solve, or maybe they just enrich our lives with a new level of understanding and appreciation. Sometimes they lead us closer to God.
When you have a question, don’t stop there. Pursue the answers, no matter how insignificant they may seem. You never know what you might learn or where you’ll be led in the process.
*Lightning Bug Sources: Firefly Files, Backyard Nature, Bioluminescence Web Page, National Geographic.
It was firefly-catching night at our house just a couple of evenings ago. My 10 year old an I. And his wonder at these little creatures is fascinating! And his excitement at catching them (and of having me catch them too – as I wasn’t nearly as adept at this as he was!) was energizing. We ran around the yard, filled our jar, watched them glow, and then let them go. And I’m pretty sure he asked how they turned their light on and off…and I never did get an answer for him, not a real answer…hmmm…I guess that puts me in the second type…hmmm…
Lance, I, too, felt like I lost a step in the art of firefly catching since my youth. I don’t remember it being quite so difficult.
I think there is a fourth kind of person—the one who has the questions pop into their head and then, rather than go look stuff up, creates a fantastical, imaginary theory for why fireflies glow and where they go in the daytime. That’s the kind of kid I find most fascinating and the surest cure for serious adultitis :-)
Ooh, good take, Erik. Anybody have any “fantastical” theories on where they go during the day?
Kent Graziano says
Well perhaps there is a 5th type – the Zen crowd – who looks upon the the beauty and creation that is the firefly and simply accepts that it “is” and that no explaination is required, not because they are lazy or too busy, but because there is happiness is that moment of marvel and in knowing what a cool universe we live in that has such fantastical creatures.
Kent, I like the point about finding happiness in the moment. For me, it seems that digging up the answers always adds to the coolness of the universe in which we live.
Laura Lawrence says
Living in California, we do not get the partake in the simple joy that fireflies bring (unless you go to Disneyland and ride “Pirates of the Caribbean”!). It is on my list of things I must experience before I die.
Laura, you’ll definitely have to make a visit to the Midwest to see them. It’s quite a sight.
Jenna aka Chief says
Growing up in Illinois farm country, it was so cool driving home at night and seeing the fields lighting up with fireflies!
A few years ago I visited friends who had moved from the Midwest to Alaska and asked what I could bring. She told me that she wished her kids could enjoy lightning bugs the way she did growing up. Well, I didn’t bring any fireflies in my suitcase, but I did find this cool
build-your-own-firefly craft that the family totally enjoyed.
Cool link, Jenna. I wonder what TSA’s policy on bringing fireflies on board…
i took a project called “light museum” for my architectural thesis…v usually design buildings based on a concept…for me the moment i thought about light museum fireflies sparked in my mind…took a month to build my form lik a firefly (abstract) and made da tail part transparent…my faculties wer against it during the process for my direct linkin of light to firefly…bt atlast it workrd…my jurer found it so facinating…fruits for my labour…am happy too…so think lik a kid…it s more facinating… found ur article n happy to kno…ter s lot of people like me…so my faculties r suffering from adultitis…ha ha