First, let's think about HOW the firefly emits
light and then we'll talk about WHY they do it.
Scientists refer to this kind of light emission
by an organism as a type of bioluminescence - the
production of light through a chemical reaction in
a living organism.
The firefly (and some other, related animals)
produce a compound called luciferin. They
also produce an enzyme - called luciferase
- that can oxidize luciferin (in the presence of
oxygen and ATP, an energy source), which results
in the emission of light of a particular
Interestingly, slight differences in the
luciferase in different species result in a
different wavelength of light emission of the
luciferin. So, different species can emit
different wavelengths of light. The luciferin
and luciferase are produced in localized tissues,
such as the ventral organ. The Wiki site on
bioluminescence is an up to date, scientifically
accurate place to start to learn about this
Google images also can lead you to some
astounding examples of bioluminescence in nature.
Many marine organisms exhibit various forms of
bioluminescence as well.
But how does the firefly control the light
emission and why do they do it? If you have
watched the beautiful display of fireflies
flickering over a field or along a fence line on a
summer's night, you will notice that they have
regular patterns - it's not random.
We don't really understand the exact
mechanism of how the firefly controls light
production (that is, how the luciferase
activity is controlled). However, it is pretty
well established that they use luminescence as
a mating strategy. In some cases, the females
emit light to attract mates. In other species,
it's the males that emit light in an effort to
Once you start looking into the amazing world
of bioluminescence, it's hard to stop!
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