The other evening, while watching TV with Mr Pict, my eye kept getting drawn to flashing lights in the garden. However, every time I asked Mr Pict to look, he could never see anything. I knew my eyes were not deceiving me, that I was not experiencing either an optical malfunction or a hallucination, so the next evening, I kept one eye trained on the windows. Not necessarily the most comfortable way to watch telly. As soon as dusk settled into darkness, the flashing started again. The kids had only just gone to bed so I got everyone to gather in the playroom to look. Sure enough, this time everyone else could see what I was seeing: flickering lights gliding upwards from the grass into the sky. And the lights got stronger and more numerous as it grew ever darker.
Despite the fact we do have fireflies in Scotland, they are rare so I had only seen fireflies once before – and that was in America too – but my kids had never seen them. It’s not often that one gets to use the word bioluminescence in general conversation but I gave up on trying to teach the kids the science behind it mid-sentence anyway so that they could just watch and enjoy the spectacle. A teeny weeny wee bit of subsequent research, however, has revealed to me that Pennsylvania has it’s very own firefly – Photuris Pennsylvanicus if we want to be all Sunday name about it – and that the male beetles can fly but their lady friends, who they are trying to impress into getting jiggy with them – remain on the ground. That explained why I had been seeing lights flickering at both levels: it wasn’t that they were moving upwards into the sky but that some were remaining on the grass while others flew around to be show-offs. Some other things I learned about these fireflies is that they are quite fond of munching slugs and have, as such, evolved the ability to track slug slime trails. It makes me think of aeroplanes looking for the airstrip. Also, the larva bites its prey and injects it with saliva that turns the prey’s insides into soup. Pretty cool, eh?
Magical. That was the best thing about watching the fireflies. They were simply magical, like a special effect from nature. We were all completely enchanted.