Adult Firefly – Photuris lucicrescens

Fireflies in the Garden
Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can’t sustain the part.
by Robert Frost


I just had a lightning bug settle on my deck’s screen door and send a little signal to me. But I read this past week that fireflies – lightning bugs to many of us – are a threatened species these days.

You might have some in your backyard but they are generally found in wetland habitats. The threats to them are the development of wetlands and insecticide spraying that is meant to target mosquitoes. It is the disruptions in their habitat while they are young – such as construction – that can extinguish an entire population.

This is a topic that is more likely to show up on another blog of mine – Endangered New Jersey – but I’m sure many of my readers here have childhood memories of fireflies and perhaps still are lucky enough to see them at night. I’m seeing fewer of them here in Paradelle. There are at least 125 species of fireflies in the United States, but none are protected by the Endangered Species Act.

Fireflies or lightning bugs aren’t flies or bugs. They are soft-winged beetles. What everyone knows them for is that they can produce light and this ability in a living organism is called bioluminescence and it is relatively rare.

Birds and other predators quickly learn to avoid them because many species of fireflies protect themselves from predators with chemicals called lucibufagins which are toxic in the right doses, but also extremely distasteful.

The light comes from special organs in their abdomens that combine the luciferin with oxygen. Entomologists think they control their flashing by regulating how much oxygen goes to their light-producing organs.

Fireflies use that blinking to find mates but it may have evolved as a way to ward off predators. The males fly around and flash a signal unique to their kind, and the females watch for males. When a female sees one doing a good job of making her species’ signal, she flashes back with a species-appropriate flash of her own. And maybe they will mate.

Scientists think the males synchronize so everyone has a chance to look for females. These displays can be quite large and spectacular and in some places (like one forest in Tennessee) crowds assemble to watch. (see video)

To most of us, fireflies are kind of magical and harmless creatures. They don’t bite. They don’t do significant damage to plants. They just want a stable woodland, meadow or marsh habitat. Their lifecycle runs a year or more and they spend most of their lives as larvae preying on earthworms and other animals in the soil or leaf litter. Oddly, most adults don’t feed at all.

Further Reading

The August Sturgeon Full Moon

fishing by the full moon

Looking over the possible names for this month’s Full Moon (occurring Sunday, August 10th in 2014), this year I chose the Full Sturgeon Moon. It is not the most Romantic of Full Moon names, but is one that was used by some Native American tribes, particularly the Algonquin, who noted that this fish in the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain were most readily caught during this Full Moon.

Here in Paradelle, the sturgeon is an endangered species. It is not a fish you will find on menus. The sturgeon family is among the most primitive of the bony fishes.

The shortnose sturgeon has a body that contains five rows of bony plates or “scutes.” Sturgeon are typically large, long-lived fish. Atlantic sturgeon have been aged to 60 years. They inhabit fast-moving freshwater rivers, lakes and, for some species, into the offshore marine environment of the continental shelf.  Atlantic sturgeon are similar in appearance to shortnose sturgeon but are larger in size with a smaller mouth and different snout shape.

In their estuarine and freshwater habitats, Atlantic sturgeon face threats from habitat degradation and loss from various human activities such as dredging, dams, water withdrawals and even ship strikes.

Atlantic Sturgeon

You may know that the delicacy caviar is salted sturgeon eggs which has been long associated with Russia and as a “treat of the tsars.” I have written elsewhere about the surprising history of New Jersey caviar.

In short, the Delaware Bay and Delaware River was one of the most productive sturgeon fisheries in the country in the late 1800s and the United States was the world’s top caviar exporter. A small town in New Jersey was named Caviar (or Caviar Point) because of its processing plant and railroad spur for sending the caviar north through the Pine Barrens to New York City.

In 1895, they were shipping 15 train cars of caviar and smoked sturgeon every day out of NJ. The fish were plentiful, but taking the females for their eggs, increasing demand and the species being one that is slow-maturing meant that this overfishing crashed the population and the business in the early 20th century.

Atlantic sturgeon were placed on the federal endangered species list. But Atlantic sturgeon were not eliminated from the Delaware River. The estimated 300 to 500 adult females that spawn there now is a very “endangered” population when compared to the estimated 180,000 breeding sturgeon believed to be in the bay prior to 1890, New Jersey monitors migration patterns and the slow comeback of the species.

American Indian names for the Full Moons, which was their calendar, always took note of the natural world.  August’s Full Moon was called the Green Corn Moon (being still early for some corn harvests in the north), Grain Moon, the Wheat Cut Moon (San Ildefonso, and San Juan Indians), Moon When All Things Ripen (Dakotah Sioux), the Moon When Cherries Turn Black or the Blueberry Moon (Ojibway).

Europeans and American Colonists took on much of the native information about the seasons but still tended to use names like Red Moon (for the reddish hue it often takes on in the summer haze), Mating Moon, Dog’s Day Moon (constellation), Woodcutter’s Moon, Chokeberry Moon, Summertime Moon, Corn Moon, and the Barley Moon.

Continuing with our Sturgeon Moon theme this month, we might wonder if fishing and fish activity changes when there is a Full Moon. That’s debatable and probably more about Moon Lore than about science. There are entire blogs devoted to Full Moons that I follow and there are plenty of theories.

The moonlight attracts or repels fish, depending on your beliefs and experiences. Of course, the actual fullest moment of the Moon isn’t always at night. It could occur during the day, so any influence would be felt then. This month, the Moon reaches its “full” moment in Paradelle in the afternoon at 02:09:24 pm (EDT) and on the Pacific coast it will be at 11:09:24 am. In Moscow, they can eat caviar, drink vodka and watch the Moon become full at 10:09:24 pm (MSK).

And, while we are thinking about the relativity of lunar events, this very Northern Hemisphere-centric blogger takes note that on the bottom half of this planet it is now time for the Snow Moon, Storm Moon, Hunger Moon, or Wolf Moon.

The Good Doctor Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall turns 80 today.

I met her once. More on that later. I have admired her for many years.

Back in 1960, at the age of 26, Jane left England to what is today Tanzania to enter the world of wild chimpanzees. She had a notebook and a pair of binoculars and not much more.

With great patience and observation she gained the trust of these initially shy creatures and came to understand their lives.

Nowadays, Jane Goodall is on the road more than 300 days per year. I was invited to a conference ten years ago in New York City for educators. I got into a line there for a hot drink and the woman in front of me was surprised and embarrassed to discover that you had to pay $3 for your coffee or tea. “Oh, my,” she said “I don’t have any money with me.” I offered to pay and only when she turned did I realize she was Jane Goodall.

She accepted my offer and then suggested we sit together with our drinks. I was starstruck. I knew she was the featured speaker that day. She was going to talk about her Roots and Shoots program. The Roots & Shoots program is about making positive change for people, animals and for the environment.  It involves tens of thousands of young people in more than 120 countries. Young people identify problems in their communities and take action. Jane truly believes that young people, when informed and empowered to realize that what they do truly makes a difference, can indeed change the world.

We drank out tea. I never said anything about her or her work. I didn’t ask for an autograph. She did all the questioning. She was interested in where I taught, what I taught and why I taught. She was very interested in my volunteer work for endangered species in my home state of New Jersey.  She thought that any work I was doing in my own local area was most valuable.

Her institute encourages lots of small local actions, including creating a sustainable home garden and building a habitat for local native wildlife.

Today, Jane’s work has gone beyond the chimpanzees and includes endangered species (that does include chimpanzees) and encouraging others to do their part. The Jane Goodall Institute works to protect the famous chimpanzees of Gombe National Park in Tanzania, but recognizes this can’t be accomplished without a comprehensive approach that addresses the needs of local people who are critical to chimpanzee survival.

Dr. Jane is high on my list of the good people who live on our planet.

Today at 2 p.m. ET / 11 a.m. PT you can join Dr. Jane Goodall for a live-on-YouTube Google+ Hangout birthday party. The program will feature will feature projects from Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots groups completed in Dr. Jane’s honor, birthday wishes from around the globe and a special message from Dr. Jane herself.  A YouTube box will appear at the top of the page and all you will have to do is click play to tune in. You can join the hangout by posting questions on Google+, Facebook or Twitter using the hashtag #80yearsofJane.

This Google+ Hangout on Air is hosted in conjunction with Google Earth Outreach and Connected Classrooms.