SCV Outdoor Report: Flash Versus Substance
It’s a peaceful August night in Wisconsin. I’m sitting in a cozy chair, talking with my Dad, when suddenly I see a tiny speck of light glowing through the window. It was a brief flash, less than a second, but my face lit up with a smile in response. It was a firefly - also known as a lightning bug. This firefly was looking for romance and trying to make a flashy first impression.
According to the Nat Geo website, “Firefly light is usually intermittent, and flashes in patterns that are unique to each species. Each blinking pattern is an optical signal that helps fireflies find potential mates.” So my brother’s backyard is the equivalent of a neighborhood tavern.
(Click here to see a short video of fireflies lighting up a field of soybeans in Nebraska.)
There are two phases of courtship. In the first phase, the on-the-wing phase, females “flash a response at select males that light up with especially attractive courtship flashes.” But there’s a second phase that occurs after the lights go out. (Click here to see a video.) And females may “mate several times before allowing particular sperm to fertilise their eggs”. During this mating phase, which male will be most successful in passing on his genes to the next generation of fireflies?
In a recent study, researchers at Tufts University ran experiments using video and DNA to see which firefly males were more likely to be fathers. They found that “females of the species tend to choose mates that they perceive as able to deliver a large "nuptial gift" a high protein sperm package that helps females produce more eggs. When you think about it, this is not too surprising. Ask any parent - offspring require resources - financial, time, energy and love.
Perhaps that’s what my Grandma was getting at when she told me, “you can’t judge a book by its cover”. Flash is not the same as substance - that’s true for fireflies and for people. To illustrate my point - which of these two birds do you think my brother raises to supply fresh eggs?
And in case you’re wondering - we do have fireflies in California - but we don’t see the flash. We have 18 species of fireflies in California. But “instead of light signals, they use chemicals called pheromones to attract a mate”.
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Trail Maintenance Schedule. Come join our volunteers as they help maintain our trails. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org for time and place.
Wednesday mornings, August 7, 14, 21 & 28.
Saturday mornings, August 10 & 24.
Saturday, August 17, 8-10 AM at TowsleyCanyon. Summer Birding. Long summer days present a time to view many bird species and their summer plumage. Learn about some of the birds that live and pass through our local mountains. Beginners are welcome. Binoculars optional. Meet at Towsley Canyon’s front parking lot. (Click here for a map.)
New trail maps available. If you’d like to explore a bit on your own, the City of Santa Clarita has a website with trail maps of our local open spaces.
There’s also a new website for bicycle riders.
Ask Dr. Norm Do you have questions about the flora, fauna, animals, rocks, etc. in our Santa Clarita Valley? Here’s a place for you to ask your questions.
Dr. Norman Herr, Ph.D., is a professor of science and computer education at California State University, Northridge.
Tell Us About Your Hike Here’s a new website where you can post pictures, provide feedback and make suggestions about the City of Santa Clarita’s trails and open spaces.
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on "The SCV Outdoor Report", brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
Or check out our Facebook page - L.A. Mountains.
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