Fireflies, evolution’s Johnny-come-latelies

This video about marine life is called Amazing and weird creatures exhibit bioluminescence – Blue Planet – BBC Earth.

From New Scientist:

Glowing insects evolved surprisingly recently

14:40 21 August 2012 by Karl Gruber

Fireflies, one of the most conspicuous of nocturnal insects, are a relatively recent addition to the twilight world. A new analysis of all bioluminescent species suggests that those living on land might be mere tens of millions of years old – a fraction of the age of bioluminescing marine groups.

Bioluminescence serves many purposes, from communication to finding mates, scaring off predators to attracting prey. Yet while many marine species bioluminesce, very few terrestrial animals have evolved the ability. Besides fireflies and a few other insects, only one snail, a few earthworms and a handful of millipedes can produce light.

To better understand this striking difference between land and sea Peter Vršanský, a palaeobiologist at the Slovak Academy of Sciences in Bratislava, and his colleagues, studied the evolutionary history of all known marine and terrestrial groups of bioluminescent species.

Their results show that most marine light-producing animals can trace their origins back to the Devonian period, at least 400 million years ago. Bioluminescent landlubbers are all much younger – no more than 65 million years old.

“There are unexpected, but very important indications for a modern origin of luminescence on land,” says Vršanský.

It’s possible that luminescent species appeared on land only when night life began to diversify, says Vršanský – although there are indications that some of the dinosaurs and early birds living before the bioluminescent insects evolved were nocturnal.

Another possibility is that terrestrial species have only recently cracked the problem of disposing of the toxic by-products of bioluminescence – less of an issue in the marine realm where temperatures are often cooler and more stable than in tropical forests.

Whatever the reason for the discrepancy, the future for terrestrial bioluminescent species might not be bright, says Vršanský. “While bioluminescent insects have diversified into 13 known species, most of them are known from a single collected individual,” he says. “That suggests they are extremely rare and vulnerable to extinction.”

That includes new species that are only just being described by science. Vršanský’s analysis, for example, took in a new species of bioluminescent cockroach his team has named Lucihormetica luckae. Uniquely, it produces light on its body in the same pattern and at the same frequency as the click beetle (Pyrophorus). Because Pyrophorus is toxic – and Lucihormetica luckae is not – it seems likely that the cockroach is the first known species to use bioluminescence to mimic another species for defence purposes.

Journal reference: Naturwissenschaften, DOI: 10.1007/s00114-012-0956-7

8 thoughts on “Fireflies, evolution’s Johnny-come-latelies

  1. Pingback: Deep sea fish on Dutch beach | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. On the 4th of July 2013 Roberto Caroppo brought the following article under our attention:

    It was published by the ‘Lega par l’abolizione della caccia’ (the league ‘abolition of hunting’).

    “SONO RITORANTE LE LUCCIOLE… e subito il comune di Novate Milanese ha deciso di sterminarle.”

    ‘Ritorante'(returned/ back again) are the fireflies .. and now the municipality of Novate Milanese decided to exterminate them.

    In short:

    The municipality of Novate Milanese, in Lombardy, Italy.

    killed all fireflies in Park Ghezzi Novate.

    Not only the fireflies, but also all other insects. Bees, bumblebees, crickets, ticks, mosquitoes . . . and anything that crawls, wriggles or flies.

    Google translate:

    “Today, July 4, 2013, the park Ghezzi in Novate Milanese was sprayed with a product that has killed all insects present. Whether ticks or mosquitoes, but also bees, ants and fireflies.

    Engaging in their death is all other life that interacted with them. The town of Novate Milanese decided to clean up a wide area killing everything that was possible to kill.

    The hypothetical health problem that lies at the basis of the decision of this administration has not even been addressed minimally. E ‘was made the first choice, the most costly in terms of economy and ecology.

    No investigation was made about the area to be ‘disinfestare’ (disinfected) or about the methodss to be used. It was a decision taken to try to stop and remove the problem, but obviously doesn’t recur.

    But anyway …they are only fireflies: we have done without them for 50 years, we don’t even remember their existence, we believe they are mythological figures … why should we complain.”

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    Mr Roberto Caroppo includes a different article with reference to ‘fireflies.’

    (‘Il vuoto del potere’ ovvero L’articolo delle lucciole di Pier Paolo Pasolini dal “Corriere della sera” del 1° febbraio 1975 / translated: ‘The vacuum of power’ or ‘The article of fireflies,’ Pier Paolo Pasolini from the “Corriere della Sera” on 1 February 1975


    ‘In the early sixties, due to air pollution, and especially in the countryside, because of the pollution of the water (the clear blue rivers and canals) the fireflies began to disappear. The phenomenon has been meteoric and dazzling. After a few years the fireflies were gone. (I’m now a memory, quite heartbreaking, of the past and an old man who has such a memory, can not recognize himself in the new young young, and therefore can no longer have the good regrets than once).
    That “something” that happened a decade ago, so I’ll call him “disappearance of fireflies.”

    Roberto Caroppo; Botani Contadino; at Me Stesso, Torino.

    (Universitá della Pianta Succulante Alpine & Vulcaniche).

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    More about fireflies:

    Fireflies disappearing (USA)

    Fireflies and science:

    Fireflies inspire low-cost LED lighting. 29 October 2012

    Flickr photo

    ‘Fireflies’ by Enrico Carpi

    Posted on May 28., 2013


    Nursery song:

    Canzone per bambini – Lucciona, lucciona

    Nursery rhyme:

    Lucciola, Lucciola

    Nusery rhyme (Italian)

    Lucciola lucciola, gialla gialla
    metti la briglia alla cavalla
    che la vuole il figlio del re
    lucciola lucciola vieni con me.

    Lucciola lucciola vien da me:
    ti darò il pan del Re,
    pan del Re e della Regina.
    Lucciola, lucciola, vien vicina.

    Firefly, Firefly

    Nusery rhyme (English)

    Firefly, firefly, yellow and bright
    Bridle the filly under your light,
    The son of the king is ready to ride,
    Firefly, firefly, fly by my side

    Firefly, firefly come to me:
    I’ll give you some King’s bread,
    Some King and Queen’s bread.
    Firefly, firefly, come near to me.”

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    In Europe, recent EU legislation has been approved banning the use of highly toxic pesticides including those that are carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproduction, those that are endocrine-disrupting, and those that are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) or very persistent and very bioaccumulative (vPvB).[citation needed] Measures were approved to improve the general safety of pesticides across all EU member states. ” – (Pesticide Legislation Approved last retrieved 13 January 2009. Wikipedia). Since then there are more refinements to the regulations.

    European Commission, ‘Health and Consumer’/ EU policy – says that no pesticide may be used if is has an unacceptable effect on the environment.

    (reply: Roberto wrote: “good to know. I have some city manager and many guards of all kinds among my friends. Thanks for the information Lizia Niemand :-*”)


  3. Pier Paolo Pasolini – L’articolo delle lucciole’/ The article of fireflies.’

    ‘Il vuoto del potere’ ovvero’ L’articolo delle lucciole’
    di Pier Paolo Pasolini
    dal “Corriere della sera” del 1° febbraio 1975 /

    translated: ‘The vacuum of power’ or ‘The article of fireflies,’
    by Pier Paolo Pasolini
    from the “Corriere della Sera” on 1 February 1975.

    Posted by Roberto Caroppo on Fbook on July 4th 2013.


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