Description & Statistics
Members of this family are the fireflies or glowworms, which are found worldwide, being conspicuous because of the luminescence produced by certain organs. All stages show luminescence; even the eggs have a faint glow due to the material with which they are coated at the time of oviposition. Several species are diurnal and have the luminescence organs only slightly developed or entirely lacking. Females of most species are wingless and somewhat larviform and of much greater size than males. A few species are considered phytophagous as adults (Williams 1917), although the majority, both adults and larvae, seem to limit feeding to snails, with some evidence that cutworms and earthworms also form part of the diet. The amount of food consumed by the larvae is much greater than that consumed by adults, with many of the latter not feeding at all. Larvae are thought to inject a powerful toxic agent into the body of the snail host, for death occurs quickly after attack, even though the mechanical injury is usually very light (Clausen 1940/62).
In Asia, several species are aquatic, the larvae of some living in clear flowing streams, while others inhabit standing water such as in rice fields. Their food consists almost entirely of aquatic snails. The larvae of most terrestrial species seem to live ca. two years, while aquatic forms have an annual cycle. Hibernation is as larvae in a soil chamber on or underneath the surface. They usually pupate in a soil cell, beneath trash or on the surface in moist situations. Early accounts of the biology of several common North American species were given by Hess (1920).
The life history and behavior of Lamprophorus tenebrosus Wlk. were studied by Hutson & Austin (1924). This species is predaceous on the terrestrial African or Kalutara snail, Achatina fulica Fer., as pest of truck crops in Ceylon. Luciola cruciata Motsch. in Japan is an natural enemy of aquatic snails (Okada 1928, Kanda 1933). In the tropics the control of these snails is important, not because they inflict direct damage but because they are intermediate hosts of human pathogens. Lampyris noctiluca L. was imported to New Zealand from England for the biological control of Helix adspersa Mull. (Clausen 1940/62).
All species have wings and referred to as fireflies or lightning bugs due to their bioluminescence in the late evening, which serves to attract mates or prey. There is a "cold light", with no infrared or ultraviolet component. The light's color may be yellow, green, or reddish, and emanates from the lower abdominal region.
There are 2,012 identified species as of 2011, ranging through temperate and tropical areas. Most occur around marshy or in wet, wooded areas where the larvae may find food. When larvae produce light they are referred to as "glowworms." The related family Phengodidae also produces light and are common in the Americas.
Adult firefiles are brown in color with soft bodies and leathery elytra.. The sexes are similar in appearance, but females have compound eyes. Most fireflies are nocturnal, though there are some diurnal ones. The diurnal species may produce light only in areas that are heavily shaded.
Eggs are laid below the surface of the ground, hatching after about three weeks. Larvae feed through the summer months. Hibernation is over winter as larvae in the ground or in tree bark, with several species hibernating for more than one year. In the spring the larvae feed for a few weeks and then pupate for about two weeks before emerging as adults. The larvae of most species are predators and feed on other larvae or terrestrial molluscs. A primary defensive mechanism is their noxious taste, which can be harmful to predators
Light is produced by bioluminescence. This originates in light-emitting organs, generally located on the lower abdomen. Luciferase enzyme acts on the luciferin, in the presence of magnesium ions, ATP, and oxygen to produce light. All species may glow as larvae. The purpose of the light has been thought to ward off predators, but it is also a means for locating mates. The genera Photinus, Photuris, and Pyractomena, have males that search females by distinctive light flashes. Most females Photinus are apterous, but will flash light to attract males of their own species.
Tropical and warm temperate firefly species may synchronise light flashes in groups. In North America fireflies in the lower Appalacian Mountain region flash in groups. Female Photuris fireflies can mimic the mating flashes of other species, to attract males, which are killed and consumed. There are also many species of fireflies that are not able to produce light
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De Cock, R. & E. Matthysen. 2005, Sexual communication by pheromones in a firefly, Phosphaenus hemipterus Coleoptera: Lampyridae, Animal Behaviour
Eisner, T, D. Wiemer, L. Haynes & J. Meinwald. 1978. Lucibufagins: Defensive steroids from the fireflies Photinus ignitus and P. marginellus Coleoptera: Lampyridae, The National Academy of Sciences of the USA
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