These fireflies flirt with heart-shaped lanterns

Fireflies
© Kevin Collins/KQED Science

Each species of flashing firefly has a secret code to attract their mates – these ones do so with a light-up heart.

Earlier this year I wrote about a femme fatale species of firefly, a trickster vixen from the genus Photuris that lures males of other firefly groups to their gruesome demise. I know everything is fair when it comes to survival, but the deceit is nonetheless remarkable!

However, hidden in that story was a small detail that I haven't stopped thinking about: Female fireflies from another species, Photinus pyralis, make their bids for love (well, mating at least) with a heart-shaped light.

Like Mother Nature's own flashing emoji, when she spies the special signal from a fellow-species fella, she twists her abdomen in his direction and reveals her secret heart. If only it were so easy for us humans.

The male of the species, known as the common eastern firefly or big dipper, is no slouch in the seduction department, either. He gets her attention by tracing out an acrobatic "J" in the sky ... he does it in a big graceful dipping motion, hence the name.

And where does all this flirty flashing lead? When a love connection is made, as KQED Science explains: "Our 'Big Dipper' comes bearing a 'nuptial gift,' a present of more than 200 assorted nutrients, kind of like a box of chocolates. Here’s the handoff. Some are lucibufagins -- defensive chemicals fireflies secrete to ward off predators like spiders and birds.These defensive chemicals may help protect her." And eventually baby fireflies ... complete with big dips and heart-shaped lanterns so that a new generation of fireflies can light up the nighttime sky with their special language of love.

More at KQED Science.

These fireflies flirt with heart-shaped lanterns
Each species of flashing firefly has a secret code to attract their mates – these ones do so with a light-up heart.

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