Firefly Fantasy Wonderland – Field trip September 2013

On a glorious Spring evening a good sized gathering of the Townsville WPSQ watched with delight the spectacle of millions of fireflies dancing across the floodplain of the Ross River.  Even though the primary aim of the trip was to watch the fireflies we managed a creditable bird list, recorded with diligence by Jackie Wolstenholme and provided below 

Hey everybody, the fireflies are out! / Photo Julia Hazel

Birds noted: Pelican, black-necked stork, masked lapwing, great egret, royal spoonbill, white ibis, heron (species uncertain), brahminy kite, hard-heads, bush stone curlew, rainbow bee-eater, white breasted wood-swallow, blue-faced honeyeater.

Bee-eater nest tunnel – with signs of current activity

Also witnessed were jumping fish, flying foxes, glasses of wine and food.  But back to the main event and with thanks to Mike who provided the following information about fireflies.

The taxonomy of fireflies is in a doubtful state, so the species we were observing is best left unnamed.  Probably all the ones we saw were males. Females seem to be outnumbered 100 to 1, at least in other Queensland species, and typically they wait on the ground while the males cruise around for maybe an hour or two. It seems that the successful males are those who stay aloft longest; therefore the females must either discriminate somehow on the basis of males being weak and fresh versus strong and exhausted, or else maybe those which can’t last the distance in the cruising stakes are too tired by definition to do anything other than sleep.

But why doesn’t this happen to the longest-lasting flyers? It’s a mystery. In fact there are many mysteries in firefly biology. One thing seems established: the larvae may live for up to a year and in that time store food energy. The adults don’t feed and live only a few days, expending all that hard-won energy making more babies while entertaining tourists, locals and WPSQ members. The photo below showing one of these tiny creatures, many times its natural size, was provided by Greg Calvert. [Sorry, this photo no longer displays]

The Mona Lisa / Photo Julia Hazel

We all agreed that the sight was far better than any artificial Christmas light show and with much less impact on the environment. With backpacks and eskys opened, blankets and chairs setup and great weather, it seemed that everyone enjoyed a very special evening.


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