A Flight With Light: Mating in Photinus ignitus fireflies


A Flight With Light: Mating in Photinus ignitus fireflies

Fireflies are winged-beetles found in temperate and tropical environments, which illuminate light (bioluminescence, a chemical reaction) from their abdomen (Cratsley et al 2003: 135). What distinguishes then are the ways in which they utilize lights for different reasons. The lights they emit are their basic form of communication (Buck 2007: 63). There are various reasons for the use of lights, to warn predators or to attract prey (Nicol 1962: 357). The Photinus ignitus fireflies in particular, use of light for courtship display and sexual selection (Cratsley et al 2003: 135).

For Photinus ignitus fireflies, the males flash their light to attract females in their courtship display (Stanger-Hall et al 2007: 33-49). While females, respond with bioluminescent flashes of their own. The higher the response from females, the more successfully the male is at mating, illustrating natural selection (Cratsley et al 2003: 135). Studies show that increase male flashing increases female responsiveness (Cratsley et al 2003: 137). Thus, the brighter the male flashes, the higher the success of his mating (John 1988: 279).

Based on the courtship behaviours and selection theory, the flashing of the Photinus ignitus fireflies in groups have significantly improved their mating opportunities (John et al 1978: 485). As Alexander argues, “mating is the sole function for both sexes, every male profits from cooperation, such as synchrony in chorus, which increases the number of females attracted to his particular group” (John et al 1978: 484).

Works Cited

Journal Articles

Buck, John., Buck, Elizabeth, 1978. Toward a Functional Interpretation of Synchronous Flashing by Fireflies, The American Naturalist, 112(985): 471-492.

Buck, John, 1988. Synchronous Rhythmic Flashing of Fireflies. II., The Quarterly Review of Biology, 63(3): 265-289.

Cratsley, Christopher K., Lewis, Sara M., 2003. Female preference for male courtship flashes in Photinus ignitus fireflies. Behavioral Ecology, 14(1): 135-140.

Nicol, J. A., 1962. Bioluminescence, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series A, Mathematical and Physical Scienes, 265(1322): 355-359.

Stanger-Hall, K. F., Lloyd, J. E., Hillis, D. M., 2007. Phylogeny of North American fireflies (Coleoptera: Lampyridae): implications for the evolution of light signals, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 45(1): 33–49.


“Firefly (Photinus pyralis) on soy bean plant,” by Gail Shumway. How Stuff Works?, accessed on 7 April 2013

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