National Geographic : 1962 Jul
Wing-borne Lamps of the Summer Night critical matter when it comes to locating a mate in total darkness). Fireflies are rarely seen during daylight hours; they hide themselves, neither moving nor flashing, on the undersides of leaves, in soil, or in bark crevices. Repeatedly I noted that on a night streaming with moonlight firefly play was minimal or absent. Celestial and artificial light is something fireflies ap parently wish to avoid; perhaps it jams their signals. Red Glimmer: A New Species? Late in the evening I sometimes set out by car and followed a winding cliffside road in quest of new areas of firefly abundance. Some nights, when the moon shone too bright ly or the air was too dry, I stopped to visit the mountainfolk in their roadside dwellings. To these people, in whose jungled back yards I often probed, flashlight and collecting bottle in hand, I was known as the "blinkie man," and after initial suspicions had been allayed, my relations with them were extreme ly cordial. Many a barefoot boy, and adult, too, joined me in the dark as an eager accom plice, always ready to carry equipment or show me the way to this or that dark grove where the night before "plenty blinkies" had been seen. I remember one drizzly night when, except for the intrusion of my car headlights, the world was ink black. As I slowly second geared around a narrow turn, a patch of twin klings in a clearing suddenly caught my eyes. As if smoking a cigar, an Anolis lizard clamps a half-swallowed fire fly in its mouth. The author, who placed the insects in the reptile's box as part of his study of fireflies, says the sight "suggested an evil-faced man smok ing a king-size cigar." Finally, he adds, the lizard spat out its lu minous mouthful. In extreme stress, a firefly's beacon burns continuously. I stopped and snapped off the car lights. As my eyes became dark-adapted, the myriad flashes seemed to grow stronger. Some blinked on and off, like fixed stars; some hovered in mid-air, then angled away; others streaked through the void like satellites. But I had witnessed this spectacle before. What held my attention on that lonely moun tain road was a single point of glow in the gloom ahead which, unlike that of a web trapped firefly, pulsed in a slow, strangely ir regular manner-and it was red! I knew of only one genus of luminous in sect-Phrixothrix,a native of South America - that produces red light. To discover a spec imen of that bizarre insect in Jamaica would be of major scientific interest. I reached for my flashlight and a collect ing bottle, then stepped out of the car and stealthily made my way down the road to where, in the gloom of dense foliage and no higher than eye level, the red light continued its slow on-off rhythm. I was just at the point of moving in for the capture when the glow spoke up: "Good evening, sir." I sprang back and snapped on my flash light. Half obscured under dripping branches, where he had sought shelter from the drizzle, stood a man with a black face and friendly, alert eyes. He removed a cigarette from his lips and, referring to the flickerings all around, added: "Very pretty, isn't it?" Then he tossed the cigarette down on the wet roadway, where it sputtered to extinc- HJtKAC UHR ME bY VAUL A, LAHL, NAlUNAL L( KAYHNI blAlt C) N.I .J.