Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Firefly light

The sense of death is most in apprehension;
And the poor beetle, that we tread upon,
In corporal sufferance finds a pang as great
As when a giant dies. ―
Measure for Measure. III. i. 85-88.
The pigment, luciferin, is created in an organ on the abdomen of a winged beetle. When the chemical is oxidized, light in the form of chemical bioluminescence is emitted in periodic flashes. This beetle is called a firefly in books, and lightning bug by children. And they are neat. They are a joyful entertainment of childhood. Many a child must think a jar of fireflies would be a great light source, but that is not an effective physical answer; it is an interesting thought.

Astronomical summer brings them out. The shortest night of the year, the least needful of illumination, brings out these light bearers, these insect torches.

Venus appeared in the night sky, followed by these guys. Aerial mating dances glow, dart, and flash. The sky darkens and more stars are visible. In relative perspective, the firefly outshines the star with a greater glow.

The specie count of insects, and beetles in particular, is so high, that, man does not know. This does not make them infinite, but astounding. There is a story told of the biologist J.B.S. Haldane, wherein the professor is asked what of God has he learned about in the study of biology. He is supposed to have answered, "He seems to have an inordinate fondness for beetles."

The egyptians were inordinately fond of the dung beetle, the scarab. Children, and folklore, and the peasant loves the ladybug. The lady is Mary, the Mother of God. This beetle is honored and respected, a rarity amongst insects, of which many are crawly, creepy and disgusting, or buzzing and loathsome. The french name is a title, "
bête à bon Dieu", the beast of the good God. In its legends there are notes of mortality. The ladybug has a brilliance in the day, while the lightning bug rules the night, and the cricket is in chorus. Perhaps from these simple joys there is formed an entomologist for every university in the world.

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