National Geographic : 1962 Jul
tion, taking with it my hopes of making en tomological history. I asked this farmer, who had lived all his life in these mountains, how many kinds of fireflies he was familiar with. He laughed. As far as he knew, there were only two sorts: "blinkies," the small ones; and "peeneewal lies," the large ones. My new acquaintance revealed that he, too, was a collector of glowing insects; he had several in a matchbox. "Watch," he said, tak ing an inch-long specimen from the box and squeezing it a bit. Instantly, two lighted patches on its thorax and another on its un derside brightened. This was a peeneewallie he said. To me, it was Pyrophorus,a genus of click beetle, family Elateridae (page 54). The click beetle, also found in Temperate Zones, is so named because it clicks when it is overturned or picked up. The noise re sults from a sudden jerk to right itself. Its larva is called the wireworm, some species of which are ruinous to crops. I told the farmer of my interest in finding a "fire tree." The American biologist Dr. John B. Buck, visiting Jamaica in the summer of 1936, had described fireflies swarming in trees in such prodigious numbers that their "neb Spots before his eyes led the author to a firefly-decorated tree. His workday began at dusk when insects first lit their lamps and began their mating flights. Doomed Firefly Glows Unblinkingly as a Spider Spins a Silken Shroud Attracted by the pinpoint of light, the author found a real life drama, here enlarged five times. Winging through the gloom, the unlucky firefly blundered into an Araneid spider's web. The victim's strug gle to escape only entangled it the more. As the hungry pred ator wrapped its prey in a homespun straitjacket, the fire fly proclaimed its plight with an unwavering flare. ulous glow was visible half a mile away." He wrote of trees converted to "seething flame." I had read elsewhere about trees in the Orient which, with thousands of fireflies settled in them, flashed on and off as if synchronized. I made no mention of these facts to my roadside companion. I merely asked him, as I had many others, whether he had ever seen a tree full of blinkies. My ears pricked up when he replied: "Yes, mon. Last night, walking home late from the shoptogotomyyard,Iseeabigtreefullof blinkie fire." It was about a mile down the road from where we stood, he added. Without further palaver, the transfer of a five-shilling note put the man on my pay roll. Jumping into the car, we were off. We passed a few huts, darkened now be cause it was nearly midnight. At length my friend cautioned me to go very slow, then to pull up. We stepped out into the black. The drizzle had abated; the air was now quite clear. For a few moments, we stood peering. Then I slowly became aware of a great, dif fuse luminosity in the darkness. As my eyes became more sensitized, I per ceived thousands of stars whose galactic M tMIAIKHKM. (ABUVt) AND KUUUARLUM N.t , .