Nature: Firefly lights can be yellow, red, green

There are so many wonderful sights to see as summer unfolds right in front of us these days. Fireflies have been spectacular and magical this week according to all the reports I have received. Fireflies are officially beetles, not flies, and they create light as if by magic.

As they fly about their bottoms light up when a chemical called luciferim inside their abdomen-tail combines with oxygen, calcium, adenosine triphosphate and a chemical reaction occurs that creates the spectacular light.

Not all fireflies ‘light up’ but those of us living in the east do get to see firefly displays that have to be described as magical on a summer night.

The reason for all this display is that the males are looking for a mate and doing their best to attract one. The whole procedure results in a wonderful show on a summer’s evening. The lights can be yellow, light red, green and orange.

Predators avoid eating fireflies because they associate a bad taste with the light of fireflies and they learn to avoid them. The blood of fireflies contains lucibulagin, a steroid compound that has a gross taste, so predators leave them alone.

I remember all those many years ago when I was a child and used to collect fireflies in a jar and use it as a lantern … At my advanced age now I would never encourage that activity. It is far better to enjoy the spectacular light show they make and not cause them any stress.

Firefly larvae live underground. They are carnivorous, feeding on slugs, worms and snails. Older ones may eat each other! Most, however, subsist on pollen and nectar and still others don’t eat anything Turn off all your outdoor lights to see them near you.

A red eft caused some excitement for some friends of mine hiking this week. This small amphibian with a bright orange body walking over a log is special to see. It is the land stage of the spotted newt, a fairly common salamander living on our island.

This little creature has an interesting life. Breeding adults live in the water and lay eggs one at a time on underwater plants or some other support. In about three weeks, the eggs hatch into larvae each with external gills.

By autumn they leave the water and their gills are replaced by lungs. They change color and then appear orange-red with darker spots on the back and legs. At this stage they are called red efts and they live in the woods for a couple of years. After that they return to the water and live out their lives.

For some reason, some individuals will skip the red eft stage and never leave the water. Finding one in the woods is always an interesting event, for efts are colorful and quite fascinating. They are perfectly harmless and safe to touch gently.

I found starflower (Trientalis borealis) in bloom this week. Each year when I see a familiar flower it is like welcoming an old friend after a long absence. A naturalist in New Canaan, Conn. named Clinton Bartow fostered my love for wildflowers and wildlife and I am forever grateful.

Starflower is a delicate plant thriving in the moist and shaded woods and thickets of this island. As it comes into bloom the two small star-like flowers seem as if they are looking up at you from the forest floor. Five to 10 leaves are crowded into a whorl at the summit of the stem and the flower, with seven petals, rises above this at the end of a thin wiry stalk.

These small white starflowers possess another interesting characteristic: the parts of the flower tend to appear in groups of seven, which is quite unusual. As a rule floral parts appear in multiples of fives, or threes. Rarely are they in sevens. This plant has a dainty and fragile appearance, and is usually abundant in cool woods, high mountain slopes and moist shade of their cool coniferous woods and thickets here on Mount Desert Island. The flowers have no nectar; bees and flies get only pollen.

Waves of pink and blue wash over island fields now as lupine comes into bloom. Guillemots are once again in their breeding plumage and readily seen in the waters around this island. Cranberries and blueberries are flowering and promise a good harvest later on. Patches of wild iris or blue flag are spectacular on Route 102 in Tremont. Sheep laurel in bloom along our roads and trails reminds me of my home state of Connecticut and the mountain laurel along the Merritt Parkway. Look for the Clinton‘s lily, also called clintonia in bloom in the woods. There is so much to see and find this month in woods and fields and along the shore. Take time to get out and enjoy it. It was a long, snowy winter!

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.


Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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