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biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Family: Lampyridae (fireflies, glow worms)

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Ecdysozoa > Panarthropoda > Tritocerebra > Arthopoda > Mandibulata > Atelocerata > Panhexapoda > Hexapoda > Insecta (insects) > Dicondyla > Pterygota > Metapterygota > Neoptera > Eumetabola > Holometabola > Coleoptera (beetles) > Polyphaga > Superfamily: Cantharoidea

Small to large (3-30mm), soft-bodied beetles . They are elongate and parallel-sided, usually black or/and brown. The abdomens are mobile and bear light-producing organs - in the males usually on the last 2 segments and in the females, usually on the last segment. There are 2 subfamilies, Lampyrinae and Luciolinae. In the Lampyrinae, the head is hidden by the prothorax and the females are unlike the males as they have no wings and look like the larvae of both subfamilies. In the Luciolinae, the head is partially exposed and the females have wings and resemble the males.

Adult fireflies emit light, either steadily or in controlled flashes, depending on the species. The phenomenon of animals producing light is called bioluminescence. The light is produced when a substance called luciferin is oxidised in the presence of water and an enzyme called luciferase. Mating is facilitated by males and females signalling, rather like Morse code, each species recognising its own.

Only males fly and females remain in grasses, under logs and stones.  The larvae feed on slugs and snails and the adults are believed not to feed.


Page by Margie Cochrane