I saw my first firefly of the season last night as I watched the daylight turn to night. It’s a mystical and exciting herald of the pending summer. Every time someone asks me if I miss teaching, I always answer yes because I do. I miss the energy and the humor of being surrounded by hundreds of pubescent and pre-pubescent beings. I miss presenting a lesson and seeing them go “Oooh,” or evoking an indignant “Hey!” as they mount their fists on their hips… it all depended on which topic I was teaching.
So a Science Geek Blog gives me the satisfaction of putting stuff out there to evoke reactions, but at the same time is so unsatisfying because I don’t get to witness your reactions. Oh well… such is life. (Gee, I’m really deep.) Like, why do fireflies bioluminesce (glow)?
What I don’t miss is prepping students for a final exam. In the old days, we ended the year with a culminating project and presentation which was graded based on the number of concepts were integrated into the endeavor. The students had to apply their learning to an idea that was uniquely their own, then share it with their peers. And me.
A GOLDFINCH JUST LANDED ACROSS FROM ME ON THE PICNIC TABLE I’M WRITING AT!!!! (just thought you should know.)
Anyway, seeing the fireflies reminded me of an old lesson I taught about the incredible fluke of symbiotic relationships due to co-evolution… that’s two species who have evolved to rely on the relationship between them.
These relationships can be mutually beneficial (Mutualism)
or benefit one without the other’s knowledge (Commensalism)
or be detrimental to both (Parasitism)
or be detrimental to one (Predator/Prey).
It is most likely true that humans and all other life forms on the earth are a sum total of countless minute changes in the genetic code. Some mutation made it easier for the offspring to survive. Take the bunnies that turn white in the winter and brown in the summer.
What if they were all brown at first, and a mutation produced a white bunny. (We won’t discuss the emotional ramifications of being different than the other bunnies. Just think of what Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer went through.) That bizarre bunny survived the winter because its brown brethren were more easily spotted against the snow. That bunny produced white babies that also survived the winter. The problem was staying hidden in the summer.
Then, one day, a white bunny gave birth to a freaky brown bunny that turned white in the winter. OMG! We’re not talking Chameleons here. This was new to the bunny world. Who do you think survived to produce its own little freaky color-changing bunnies? The color-flipping bunnies, of course. Eventually this mutation was passed on to the entire population as more mutated bunnies survived to pass on their genes than the old-fashioned bunnies.
WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH FIREFLIES?
Nothing. Except that fireflies flash their lights in a genetically dictated sequence to attract a mate. They are genetically wired to look for that sequence so they can produce offspring who can produce that same sequence.
There is one species of Firefly that has also developed the ability to flash out the secret code of a completely different firefly species. The unsuspecting male shows up expecting to get jiggy with it (What? Fireflies don’t keep up with slang.), and WHAM! They get eaten.
The predatory firefly didn’t spy on the competitor specie to learn their secret code. The ability was produced by a random mutation that just happened to benefit them. Those with the mutation received dinner guests, and had a better chance at survival.
You don’t believe me? Then explain why there are moths with wings that look like the eyes of owls or mammals. Do you think those tiny moths know what an owl looks like? Of course not. One day a random mutation somehow produced a weird wing pattern that startled predators long enough for the moth to escape… and produce baby moths with the same pattern.
Yeah, that’s the kind of stuff I think about when I’m sitting on my porch watching the daylight turn to night.
By the way, does anyone know the name of the two species of fireflies? Or the moth, for that matter. It’s a bug’s life.