Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Enjoying Strange “House Pets”

Lucio the FireflyWe have a new house pet; he’s a bit unusual, not exactly what one would normally consider as a “house pet”. Lucio flew into the house sometime between Monday and Tuesday and has no plans (or so it seems) of returning outside. Lucio is a a lightning bug or firefly, depending on where you’re from. 

I have always liked fireflies, although I had never seen one until I was almost eight years old; my grandmother had invited me on a cross-country journey and we were visiting some of her cousins in upstate New York, along Lake Erie. We had just gotten there from Boston and and we were sitting around eating roasted hotdogs after a heavy thunderstorm, when my attention was attracted by little flashes of light in the dusk. I was fascinated by what seemed to be fairies flitting around the yard. When I found out they were actually “bugs” my innocent tomboy heart jumped with joy – bugs were something I understood and loved – and, after obtaining an empty jar with a lid, I set out to collect as many as I could catch. They were somewhat elusive and my total catch amounted to… zero.

I missed out on fireflies for the next 18 years, until I moved to Italy. There was a lovely park not too far away where my husband, his brother and his wife, and I would go walking in the evening. Imagine my delight when, as we sat toward the back of the park enjoying the fresh evening air, I noticed a series of flashing lights flitting here and there in the darkening sky. I had found a new colony of my old friends, and decided then and there that I would bring along a jar the next time we went to visit the park. A week later, I found myself gazing happily out the back window at the “fairy lights” flitting haphazardly around the apricot tree in our garden. I was transported back in time for about a month before they either found their way to other backyards or died (I hope it was the former, although fireflies only live a maximum of three months).

Fireflies are actually a type of beetle (not to be confused with the singing group, the Beatles); they are nocturnal and come in about 2,000 species, most of which are winged. The bright light produced by the males, a mechanism triggered to attract females, is a chemical reaction that requires approximately 97% of their body’s energy to produce. Each species has a distinct pattern to their blinking lights. I discovered the presence of Lucio because of his lightning-like blinks, one right after the other in the corner nearest the bedroom window. Since there was a thunderstorm going on at the time, I thought nothing of it until he flew over my head and blinked a couple more times. Definitely NOT lightning. When I awoke the following morning, Lucio was resting on my bedroom wall, about 3 feet above my head and I was able to get his photo. The photo on the right was provided by National Graphic.

It would seem that fireflies are not particularly worried by the presence of human beings; a week has passed since Lucio made his presence known to us. He’s not alone; there are now two, the second being named Lucia. They disappeared for a couple of days, but reappeared last night in tandem – one on the wall, while the other flitted around – and before I went to bed (right after I turned out the light) I was once again awarded with a natural sparkler display. This evening, while preparing dinner, I discovered where Lucio spends his days: he has been hiding in my basil plants. I also discovered that if you look closely enough, the blinking lights are quite visible even under a bright light bulb.

And speaking of bright lights, another new discovery—perhaps quite unknown—is that fireflies will follow the light. Lucio was resting on the refrigerator door (white), but when I turned off the light to go into another room, he followed me and flew right in when I turned on the light.

Fireflies are attracted by moist areas, which probably explains why I didn’t see too many of them in my childhood home in Southern California. My home here in Brooklyn has very high humidity, and it is a wonderful treat when summer comes, bringing with it a wonderland of “fairy lights”, inside and out.