In “The Lake of the Dismal Swamp,” the Irish poet Thomas Moore wrote: “Where all night long, by a firefly lamp, She paddles her white canoe.”
Sundown in summer awakens one of nature’s most fascinating insects, directing it to turn on its running lights. Of over 2,000 species of lightning bugs, several are native to Carolina. Unfortunately, closely manicured lawns and paving have brought these short-lived insects severe population declines.
Lightning bugs awaken during the evening hours, when the booming voice of the owl sends shivers down the backs of night creatures and the voice of the mockingbird sings of days long gone. Advancing darkness stirs the bug into a summer romance mood, creating a flashing and clicking choir of coded love songs.
Fireflies, along with glow worms, are members of the family Lampyridae. They have learned the secret of creating an energy-efficient bioluminescence chemical within their bodies. Their blinking brightness on summer nights reminds us of the cosmic grandeur of other worlds, far distant from man’s ways – and their bodies fuel the lamp of the mystical lady of the lake, as she paddles her white canoe ever deeper into Great Dismal Swamp legend in the Virginia and North Carolina lowlands.