The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Bill Eggert

July 27, 2013

BILL EGGERT | Fireflies’ flashing fascinates faithful following

— Most folks generally despise insects. They can be annoying (houseflies), germ-laden (roaches) or even deadly (black widow and brown recluse spiders).

There are a few, however, that are harmless and aesthetically beautiful: butterflies, ladybugs, and my favorite, the firefly.

One of the nice surprises when I moved back to town was the discovery that the Richland area was finally visited by fireflies during my years in Atlanta.

Conventional wisdom said that the climate in our mountains was too cold to support fireflies, at least that was what we were told as kids. Possibly global warming accounted for the migration of fireflies to Richland. My brothers and I discovered fireflies when visiting our grandparents in Pittsburgh when we were children, and I have been fascinated with them ever since.

What mainly fascinates folks is the bioluminescent light source that fireflies, or lightning bugs, give off. The flickering glow entices adults (and especially kids) to catch them in the growing darkness of dusk.

There are two chemicals in their tail that produce that ‘cold light’ (so-called because it produces no heat): luciferin

(producing the heat-resistant glow) and luciferase (the enzyme that sets off the light emission).

While fireflies use this light to warn off predators, the main purpose of their light is to attract mates. In most subsets the males fly around flashing their lights while the females stay in the grass or trees. When females see a male they are attracted to the female signals it with their own light and the male responds.

There are some interesting facts about fireflies. They are not flies but actually winged beetles. Research indicates that there are about 2,000 species of fireflies living in temperate and tropical environments, and they are found on almost every continent.

When attacked, fireflies secrete blood that tastes bitter (I do NOT know this from experience) and can be poisonous to some animals. The life expectancy of a firefly is only about two to three days, occasionally (but rarely) up to three months. The aforementioned chemicals in fireflies’ tails have been useful in the scientific and medical communities as well. Informative articles on the Internet go into greater detail on this.

Sadly, scientists say the population of fireflies has dwindled in recent years. Research indicates that the encroachment of land development, as well as pollution and pesticides, have contributed to their declining population. Another factor is that light pollution (again from land development) has been said to disrupt the flashing patterns of fireflies and their mating habits. Future generations may not have the pleasure of enjoying fireflies at night.

I find this sad, as one of the great joys from childhood (and even as an adult) is watching the fireflies’ silent flicker in the early evening. I remember my first experience with them. It was in my maternal grandparents’ backyard catching them with my brothers and putting them in Mason jars. Pop-Pop, ever the impressive handyman, took a can opener and punched slits in the lids so they could breathe.

Watching the captured fireflies glow off and on safely in the jars as we went to bed was a cherished memory – until we heard Mom let out a scream later that night. It seems that one of the more industrious fireflies was able to extricate himself from the jar by squeezing through one of the slits that Pop-Pop punched in the lid, startling Mom. Dad thought it was funny, but Mom did not.

However, Pop-Pop, not to be defeated by a firefly, cut out the inner lids and fit a piece of screen over the lid opening, preventing any fireflies trying to imitate Houdini escape their glass prison.

I think that is another reason I love fireflies: they remind me of Granny, Pop-Pop and Uncle Don on those magical nights in Pittsburgh, when all we kids had to worry about was catching those elusive fireflies.

To read stories in their entirety, visit one of these links:

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat e-edition.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Bill Eggert
  • EGGERT AND CHILLY BILLY Bill Cardille brings back childhood chills

    One of the nice things about moving back to this area was being able to connect with childhood heroes from local television. Some, like Paul Shannon (“Adventure Time”) and Hank Stohl (“Popeye and Kinesh”), unfortunately have passed on. Others, like wrestling champ Bruno Sammartino and Bill Cardille (“Chiller Theatre”) are happily still with us.

    July 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • EGGERT6 Riverboat reverie on ‘uncle time’

    Thoughts of the summer months bring to mind annual weeklong vacations with Granny, Pop-Pop and Uncle Don in Pittsburgh. One memorable summer, “Unck” took me to see the Delta Queen riverboat, sitting majestically in the Monongahela River, moored at the Mon wharf.

    July 5, 2014 2 Photos

  • Bill Eggert Columnist Photo Bill Eggert | ‘Whatever it takes’: remembering Chuck Noll

    Once upon a time there was a colorful yet inept professional football team, owned by an equally colorful Irishman who participated in sports during his younger days. Unlike their crosstown professional baseball and collegiate football team counterparts, the pro football team never tasted the sweet nectar of success for about 40 years. That all changed in 1969, when Steelers owner Art Rooney and his family found a wise, humble and grounded 37-year-old man named Chuck Noll.

    June 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Bill Eggert columnist  photo Life after Dad: A Father’s Day reflection

    One of my dad’s favorite movies was the 1947 classic “Life With Father,” starring the great William Powell (coincidentally also born in Pittsburgh) as the stern but lovable family disciplinarian.

    June 7, 2014 2 Photos

  • Bill Eggert columnist  photo BILL EGGERT | Hollywood’s take on the Great Flood

    About 37 years after the Great Johnstown Flood of 1889, Hollywood decided to make a motion picture of Johnstown’s most catastrophic event.

    May 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • EGGERT4 75 years of Batmania: The Dark Knight’s evolution

    The appeal of Batman is universal. We can identify more with Batman.
    Local resident Wayne Faucher has been a professional artist/inker on the various Batman titles for over 20 years.

    May 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • Bill Eggert Columnist Photo Travelogue of terror features Johnstown area

    A historic week will surround the venerable Silver Drive-In come the beginning of May.

    April 19, 2014 2 Photos

  • Bill Eggert BILL EGGERT | Captain America: Sentinel of liberty for 70-plus years

    When I was a kid reading comic books, my two favorite superheroes (Batman and Captain America) were not really super; maybe that is why they were my favorites.

    April 5, 2014 1 Photo

  • BILL EGGERT AND FRANK COONELLY BILL EGGERT | Pirates: a rite of spring

    Opening day for the Bucs is March 31. Every year, hope springs eternal for Pittsburgh Pirate fans. Especially for the past two decades, since outfielder Barry Bonds’ errant throw allowed gimpy-kneed Sid Bream to score the come-from-behind winning run for the Atlanta Braves in the 1992 National League Championship Series.

    March 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Bill Eggert BILL EGGERT | Going home can sometimes be only walking distance

    One of the most popular topics during my eight years of writing this column is the one of looking into the past of the Johnstown (and my areas of Moxham and Richland) of my childhood. A lot of baby boomers relate to these time trips with a sense of nostalgia, remembering a kinder, simpler, more innocent era. Or at least that is the way we remember our childhood, looking through those rose-colored glasses.

    March 8, 2014 1 Photo


Do you think pet obituaries should be included with death notices?

Yes, my pet is considered a member of the family.
No, pet obituaries are inappropriate.
Pet obituaries should be placed on a different page in the newspaper.
     View Results
Order Photos

Photo Slideshow

House Ads