On Monday, August 11th of this year the Third International Firefly Symposium opened in Gainesville, Florida. Running through Friday, August 15th, the International Firefly Symposium attracted about 50 prominent firefly experts from a dozen countries. These experts disseminated and exchanged information about the amazing firefly, the most commonly encountered and widely recognized bioluminescent organism in the world. Sideshow freaks everywhere should be aware of this. http://youtu.be/RpywSqvXDqc Fireflies, also known as “Lightning Bugs”, use bioluminescence to shine in the night and attract a suitable mating partner. These amazing creatures are nature’s pyrotechnic performers, bringing a sense of magic and mystery to our world. Man has been fascinated with the firefly for thousands of years. Over the centuries, fireflies have appeared in literature, poetry and folklore. Fireflies were discussed in Chinese writings as far back as 1500-1000 B.C. The main attraction to the firefly is its light production. Fireflies use a “language of light” to communicate with other members of the same species. The color of the light and flash patterns often varies between species. Firefly light is usually intermittent. This flash pattern is an optical signal that helps the firefly locate mates. The firefly lights are efficient “cool lights” where nearly 100 percent of the energy is given off as light. In contrast, incandescent lights use only about 10 percent of its energy in light with the rest given off as heat. The firefly light is generated in a bio-chemical reaction within dedicated light organs located under the firefly’s abdomen. The enzyme luciferase catalyzes chemical reactions between luciferin, magnesium, Adenosine triphosphate (“ATP”), and oxygen to produce light. This reaction is actually a two-step process where luciferin is first combined with ATP and magnesium to create luciferyl adenylate. The oxidization of the luciferyl adenylate then produces the firefly light. Fireflies are actually not flies, but are flying beetles in the family Lampyridae. There are over 2,000 firefly species found worldwide. Tropical rainforests are a favor habitat for fireflies, but some species are also found in the temperature regions. The adults of most firefly species are active at night. There are also fireflies beetles that are active during the day; however, these diurnal species usually do not produce light. Most fireflies have a nasty taste, as a result of defensive compounds known as lucibufagins. These chemicals are similar to those found in some poisonous toads and can sometimes even be toxic to a predator. In the scientific community, the firefly serves as the model system for the study of bioluminescence. For this reason, the ecological, behavioral and morphological studies of fireflies are of great interest to the international scientific community. In 2008, the First International Firefly Symposium took place in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Bringing together people from around the world with a common interest in fireflies in a venue that was open to not only scientists, but also educators, naturalists and artists; the First International Firefly Symposium included artistic, educational and scientific activities involving fireflies. By providing such a venue for an international meeting, the organizers fostered collaborative partnerships between those interested in many different aspects of fireflies. This meeting represented an essential link in promoting fireflies and their conservation to a wider audience. Organized by the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) and the Malaysian Nature Society, the Second International Firefly Symposium was held in Subang, Selangor, Malaysia two years later in 2010. The theme of this symposium was Firefly Conservation: From Science to Practice. With experts in taxonomy, genetics, biology, behavior, ecology and conservation of fireflies as well as members of government agencies, non-governmental organizations, educational institutions, corporations and the public, this symposium created “The Selangor Declaration”. This official document urged all the world’s government to protect, rehabilitate, educate, and promote the firefly habitats, as well as to support firefly research. Firefly conservation is in practice in many countries throughout the world. Public education, awareness and involvement are also found in many countries. However, protected areas specifically for fireflies are extremely rare. Four years in the planning, the 2014 International Firefly Symposium featured Dr. James E. Lloyd, Professor Emeritus, Department of Entomology and Nematology, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida as the keynote speaker. Firefly research has been conducted at the University of Florida for over 30 years, due largely to the research programs of Dr. James E. Lloyd and his students. Dr. Marc Branham Associate Professor, Department of Entomology and Nematology, University of Florida was the conference host.
- Paul Marek speaking on The evolution of bioluminescence in the Sierra luminous millipedes
- Gavin J. Martin speaking on A molecular phylogeny of Lampyridae and its implications to the evolution of firefly signaling systems
- Abner B. Lall speaking on Colors of the night: Do fireflies detect the color of their bioluminescence?
- Yelena M. Pacheco speaking on A phylogenetic comparison of populations of Pyractomena in the western United States
- Lawrent “Larry” L. Buschman speaking on The bioluminescent behavior of some North American lampyrid larvae and Courtship flash communication in two Photuris fireflies
- Andrew Moiseff speaking on Female Photinus carolinus lateralize their response flashes
- Raphael De Cock speaking on The enigmatic Blue Ghost Firefly Phausis reticulata (Coleoptera: Lampyridae): Observations on its courtship, mating and oviposition behaviors
- Zachary H. Marion speaking on Extending the concept of diversity partitioning to characterize phenotypic complexity
- Radim Schreiber speaking on Photographing the glow of fireflies up-close (Art Presentation)
- James K. Fischer speaking onFireflies and the photic field
- Other Presentations at the Symposium included the following:
Other activities included a walk to Florida Museum of Natural History, a guided tour of the Butterfly Rainforest, and an evening tour of the Cedar Key salt marsh, where participants observed the habitat and behavior of the Florida Intertidal Firefly (Micronaspis floridana), a monotypic species found only in salt marsh habitats. This international symposium provided an opportunity for participants to share up-to-date information and research related to the firefly. This exchange of information is critical to advancing scientific, conservation and educational efforts concerning fireflies. While you might have missed this exciting symposium in 2014, you can start planning now for the 2017 international firefly symposium, which will be held in Taiwan. See you there!!! Seeing fireflies sparkling in the summer sky is a magical experience, much like a circus side show attraction. However, imagine seeing fireflies that are all flashing at once—in a symphony of light. Species exhibiting this type of behavior are called Synchronous fireflies. These species are very special because they exist only in a handful of places in the world. In North America, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most popular places to see this spectacular display. For a two week period, sometime in the months of May or June, one of the national park’s 19 species of fireflies, Phototinus carolinus performs its amazing pyrotechnic dance which could easily rival a sideshow attraction at a circus. P. carolinus was the first North American species found to show synchronized flashing behavior. Aggregates of these flying male fireflies exhibiting synchronized flashes of five to eight bursts of light every few seconds depending upon the temperature. In Southern Asia, synchronized flashing by male fireflies is more common, and huge aggregates of male fireflies perch in entire trees creating a bright display reminiscent of flashing Christmas tree lights. One such place is the Kuala Selangor Firefly Park, often referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” Kuala Selangor Firefly Park is one the few places in the world where you can see, literally, millions of fireflies flashing in synchrony. The firefly park is home to one of the biggest firefly colonies in the world. Kuala Selangor Firefly Park is located near the small fishing village of Kuala Selangor about an hour ride north of Kuala Lumpur. Best viewed from boats on the river, the fireflies of Kuala Selangor Firefly Park glow like twinkling stars on the distant mangrove trees. This is something that every sideshow freak should experience at least once. http://youtu.be/f4CzxDpnk7Q