Have you ever seen a firefly? Unfortunately, the light pollution in our city makes the nostalgic experience rare and far between most summer nights. Recently, however, I was out walking the dog in a back field out in the country, where the city lights were significantly dimmed enough for me to catch a glimpse of a few lightening bugs calling to each other. I wouldn’t have paid too much attention, normally, but the quiet of the evening and the fact that our chocolate lab is almost invisible in the dark, made me consciously scan the bush edge for unsuspecting creatures or beady eyes staring back at me from the shadows. I smiled to myself as I watched for awhile and then proceeded to ask the dog if he noticed them too? Yes, out loud. Don’t judge me as I talk to the dog, okay?
Being the good scientist that I am, I thought the little beetles might be interesting to learn about… not everyday you see glowing butts as a way to catch the love of your life’s attention, is it? There are about 2 000 species of fireflies — and not all can use bioluminescence. The “glow” is produced to lure a mate and can be green, orange or yellow coloured. It is created by the combination of oxygen, calcium, ATP and an enzyme called luciferase. Luciferase is derived from the (get this!) Latin word for lucifer…meaning “light bearer” and has been a very important chemical in science for detecting all sorts of things in cells and living creatures. It is apparently very efficient — nearly 100% of the energy produced in the chemical reaction produces light.
Yet not all fireflies can boast such (pardon the pun) glowing reviews…some are deceivers. Some use their light to attract prey. The unsuspecting love seeker gets all caught up in the show and gets eaten for its efforts. Some fireflies will actually “steal” other flies from spider’s webs! Packaged lunch to go! Wanna hear the cool word for that behaviour? “Kleptoparasitism.” Researchers still don’t know how the burglars get on and off the webs without getting caught themselves….
Isn’t science fascinating?! But more than that, I think God uses these real life examples to teach us more than cool vocabulary words. So many life lessons are observed by watching the world around us. Is it co-incidence that the most efficient light is named after Lucifer? How attractive he is … and how easily he ensnares us into following him! The little blips of temptation can easily go unnoticed until they catch our eye and distract us into mesmerizing patterns, drawing us deeper and deeper into the darkness — only to devour us later. You need a lot of “darkness” to see the tiny blips of fireflies … surrounding yourself with light will drown them out. In fact, our light pollution is creating a decline in the numbers of fireflies … they can’t reproduce if they can’t find mates. Do you see the lesson here?
The band Owl City has a bubbly little tune called 10 000 Fireflies. (Find it here). It draws us to the nostalgic side of watching fireflies and believing in the “magic” of our childhood dreams. Obviously, life isn’t as easy as our childhood wishes… and frequently we spend sleepless nights worrying about things that are often out of our control. May you be encouraged this week that there is someone who does care about you and your dreams. He’s not “magical” or flashy… He’s simply the God who loves you. And me. The One who created 10 000 fireflies… and the God who made me notice one, so I can tell you the story of how it made me smile on a summer’s evening (and talk to the dog out loud.)