An unexpected wedding present: What fireflies give each other on their big day

Jul 1, 2014 /


Sara Lewis (TED Talk: The loves and lies of fireflies) has spent the past 20 years studying fireflies. While her interest was sparked (sorry) by curiosity about just how the beetles conjured light, seemingly from nothing, her exploration soon took on more fundamental questions. Like, how do fireflies mate — and what happens when they do so? (Two fireflies in coitus shown on the right of the picture above.) It turns out, that there’s what she calls a “surprising new twist” to firefly sex. “While they’re mating, the male is busy giving the female not just his sperm but also a nutrient-filled package called a nuptial gift,” she says. (That’s the translucent coil shown on the left of this picture.) “What makes this gift so valuable is that it’s packed with protein that the female will use to provision her eggs,” Lewis adds. As such, lady fireflies judge potential partners’ flash signals to determine which mate might have the biggest gift to offer them. “This bling helps the female lay more eggs and ultimately launch more of her own offspring into the next generation.”

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Image courtesy Sara Lewis.