Fireflies are subject of insect walk Aug. 2

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WOOSTER, Ohio – Night takes over a warm Ohio evening and all you can see amid the darkness of backyards, fields and woods are blinking specks of light that seem to come from nowhere, like the fairies and pixies of childhood tales.

They are fireflies. And the comparison between them and mythical creatures – early European sailors who came back from the South Pacific used to tell stories of entire fields of fairies that flashed in unison – is just part of the fascination that these insects have ignited in humans throughout the centuries, Ohio State University entomologists explain.

Learning more. Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center will offer its fourth annual Insect Night Walk to take a better look at these night-dwelling insects.

The free event is Aug. 2, 8:30-10:30 p.m. at the center’s Secrest Arboretum in Wooster.

Pixie dust. Pixie dust is not what makes fireflies – or lighting bugs – shine. And neither are these insects of the family Lampyridae (“shining ones” in Greek) flies at all.

Fireflies are beetles and live on all continents except Antarctica.

In North America, 170 species of this family illuminate the night, mainly east of Kansas. But most of the 2,000 firefly species that have been described worldwide prefer warm, humid areas – tiny Costa Rica, about the size of West Virginia, is home to at least 80 species.

And some researchers believe that almost double the number of known firefly species is still waiting to be discovered, especially in Central and South America.

Universal truths. What’s universally true about fireflies is that their light production is caused by two rare chemicals present in their abdomens – luciferin and luciferase, both named after Lucifer, the fallen angel of light.

Luciferin, a heat-resistant substrate, is the source of light, while luciferase, an enzyme, is the trigger.

They combine with oxygen and another body chemical known as ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which converts to energy and causes the mixture to light up.

There are several theories about how fireflies control the “on” and “off” of their light-producing organs, but the exact mechanism has not yet been determined.

For more information about the walk, call 330-263-3931 or e-mail downer.2@osu.edu.

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