Summer’s flasher


Jim McGuire



Summer is here! It’s official — the almanacs and calendars say so.

More to the point, it’s finally starting to feel like summer — albeit a soggy, squishy damply tropical summer given all the recent rain and last week’s soaring heat.

No matter — I’ll take it! And just maybe the weather gods overseeing our local creeks and rivers will finally show a little mercy to this beleaguered ol’ stream fisherman and lighten up on what’s so far been seemingly constant back-to-back cycles of high, muddy water.

A fellow can only endure so much disappointment and frustration.

On a recent sultry evening, I was sitting outside, savoring the quiet and a faint breeze. The last remnants of twilight had dimmed and disappeared from the western sky.

As the light faded a canopy of clouds crept in overhead. The summer darkness intensified.

The nearby Stillwater hurried along. Its normal musical purling was reduced to an oddly sibilant gurgle — a sound I recognized as its high-water voice. My beloved old river was running several feet above its normal pool, and though invisible in the velvety June night, no doubt the color of creamed coffee.

A sudden yellow flash in my peripheral vision caught my attention. Brief light, emanating from a point above a clump of long riverbank grass a few feet away. Just as I swiveled around for a better view, the bright twinkle repeated.

Lightning bug!

The sight immediately gladdened my heart, flooding my thoughts with sweet recollections of childhood summer evenings spent chasing fireflies around the backyard.

One by one I would gently catch the whirring bugs and put them into tall, skinny jars from the A&P which originally came packed with olives. Dad drilled holes in the lids. I added a sprig of green from the porchside red haw.

By evening’s end, my were jars full. I’d take them to my room, place them on the stand beside my bed, and fall happily asleep to the winking and blinking of my nightlight captives.

Survivors were turned loose in the morning.

In my scheme of things, no matter what the calendar or thermometer says, spring hasn’t turned into summer until I witness a few fireflies.

Regardless of whether you call them lightning bugs or fireflies, these harmless insects have been enchanting folks for centuries.

Scientifically speaking, they’re neither flies nor true bugs, but a winged beetle belonging to the family Lampyridae. Worldwide, there are over 2000 species, maybe 200 in North America, and likely 40 or so in Ohio — though the experts differ on the exact number.

The firefly’s light is accomplished through a neat chemical reaction. Luciferin is combined with an enzyme called Lucifrease, plus adenosine triphosphate (ATP), and oxygen. The result is a natural light; its fancy term is bioluminescence.

The impetus behind a firefly’s flash is procreation. Males operate under the philosophy that it pays to advertise. Their mate-seeking flashes are distinctive in pattern from species to species.

When the female, coyly ensconced in the grass, sees the winking taillight of a prospective mate, she shows interest with a flash of her own. Male fly closer and signal again. Milady reciprocates.

Thus is firefly romance kindled — one alternating flash after another.

For me, fireflies will always possess a whimsical and enduring magic. I simply can’t imagine an Ohio summer evening without their winking, blinking company.

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Jim McGuire

Reach Jim McGuire at [email protected]

Reach Jim McGuire at [email protected]