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Why fireflies flash

Making It Grow Radio Minute
SC Public Radio

While watching the fireflies on the Winthrop University campus, our knowledgeable hosts told us a hair-raising story about certain females of these flashing beetle species. It may be that fireflies first started glowing to warn off predators that they contain a toxin and taste horrible. In a few species that don’t have this protective compound, the females sometimes flash in a different timing and pattern to attract not a male of her species with whom to mate. Really, she’s after an unsuspecting fellow from a different group that does contain that compound. Instead of the expected coupling, he gets eaten. By consuming his body, it’s thought she transfers that poisonous compound to her eggs and larvae so they will get that same group protection. Mother Nature is not always so charming and beneficent as she is portrayed.

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Amanda McNulty is a Clemson University Extension Horticulture agent and the host of South Carolina ETV’s Making It Grow! gardening program. She studied horticulture at Clemson University as a non-traditional student. “I’m so fortunate that my early attempts at getting a degree got side tracked as I’m a lot better at getting dirty in the garden than practicing diplomacy!” McNulty also studied at South Carolina State University and earned a graduate degree in teaching there.