Where Have All The Lightning Bugs Gone?

Lightning bugs, doing their thing

Lightning bugs, doing their thing

Has anyone else noticed an apparent drop in the population of lightning bugs on sultry evenings? When I was a kid, catching lightning bugs was one of the fun things to do on a summer night. When they came out, you’d go inside, get a glass jar, punch some holes in the tops with scissors or a screwdriver, and toss some grass into the bottom of the jar. Then, you would go out, catch as many lightning bugs as you could, and then drop them into the jar and screw the top back on.  After a while, the lights from the bugs in the jar helped you hunt.  The bugs were perfect prey, being oblivious to the shouts of children and willing to light up again and again even after narrowly escaping a capture attempt. They were easy to catch once you got the hang of seeing them, and the best conditions occurred about 45 minutes before the sun went down, when there were deep shadows but enough light to see the bugs after their lights went out. Once it became dark, you could see the bugs when they were lit, but once they deilluminated you would quickly lose track of them. Kish and I took a walk tonight at prime time for lightning bug viewing, and the showing was pretty weak. We saw one or two of them in the low-lying, shaded areas where you would expect to see a dozen. What has happened?

Lightning bugs are actually nocturnal beetles, members of the family Lampyridae. They love moisture and thrive in wet, humid areas. According to National Geographic, their blinking pattern is designed to help them attract mates, and each species has a unique flashing pattern. The males apparently are the ones who fly around blinking, while the females hang out on leaves, and only flash when they see a male who catches their fancy. The pair then exchange signals until the guy finally knows he’s got a legitimate shot. (This explains, I suppose, why flying lightning bugs are single-minded in their flashing and uncaring about noise.)A lightning bug

Internet research indicates that scientists are concerned that there is a worldwide decline in the population of lightning bugs. A conference of entomologists and biologists last year in Thailand addressed the problem and concluded that the reasons for the population drop is destruction of natural habitat and light pollution. The moist areas where lightning bugs used to thrive have fallen prey to urban sprawl, and I believe that many people also have consciously tried to get rid of the wetter areas because they attract not only lightning bugs, but also pesky and often disease-carrying mosquitoes. Some scientists hypothesize that artificial lights may be interfering with the mating patterns of the beetles. And, as someone who fancied himself a skilled lightning bug hunter, I like to think that their population may have been thinned somewhat, even if only a bit, by the rigorous backyard hunting efforts of 10-year-olds.

There are still some damp lowlands areas of our corner of New Albany, in the area around Rose Run Creek. Let’s hope there are still lightning bugs down there, waiting for the next hardy hunter. It would be tragic if such an innocent element of summertime fun were to disappear.

A lightning bug

Too Wet or Too Hot?

Kish, Russell and I have made it home safely after the Northwestern graduation festivities; Richard will be home in a day or two as he enjoys the last few moments of college life.  The long drive gave us the opportunity for some additional reflection on the weekend, and two additional points seem worth making.

After Friday’s rain-soaked ceremony, Kish and I were surprised and a bit critical of the Administration’s decision to have graduation outdoors, despite the threatening weather advancing from the west.  After we attended Saturday’s Weinberg School graduation in the Welsh-Ryan Fieldhouse, however, we have a much better appreciation for the context of the Administration’s decision.   Even with only the Weinberg School graduates and their guests in attendance, the Fieldhouse was ludicrously hot on Saturday morning, with almost no air circulation save for that caused by furious (and largely ineffective) fanning of graduation programs.  It is impossible to imagine how hot it would have been if the Friday night graduation ceremony for the entire university had been moved indoors and every seat was filled with panting parents and grandparents.  Confronted with that unattractive option, the decision to go ahead and have the ceremony outdoors and hope that the weather would cooperate seems much more reasonable.

I also think attending a college graduation makes the other “graduation” ceremonies we have attended seem silly.  Our kids, like many other schoolchildren, went through “graduations” after fourth grade and eighth grade.  At the time, and even more in retrospect, the lower school and middle school “graduations” seem like foolish contrivances that cheapen the real meaning of graduation.  Perhaps those ceremonies are an outgrowth of the same suffocating, overly protective parental attitudes that require every kid who participates in an organized sport to receive a trophy, no matter how poorly they performed.  The significance of trophies have been sacrificed on the altar of general “self-esteem,” and so to an extent has the significance of graduation ceremonies.  Graduation from college is “graduation” in the literal sense — the student receives an academic degree — and also in the sense of the Latin root of the word, gradus, which means a step.  Regardless of what the graduate may go on to do, he or she has taken an irrevocable step forward into adulthood and a career.  College graduation is truly a momentous occasion, and I hope Richard and his classmates recognize its significance.  (Of course, when I graduated I didn’t.)

This link will take you to an on-line newspaper report on the NU graduation.  I’m sure that Northwestern officials appreciate that the story includes some comments from parents on the cost of a Northwestern education.

Not So Golden (Cont.)

Here’s another article on the troubles in California, in this case on the unemployment rate increasing to the highest level since records started being kept in 1976. And, just in time for Father’s Day, the article includes another slant on the current recession that I had not seen before — men are losing their jobs at a rate disproportionate to women.