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Fireflies, those Femme Fatales

Christopher Stieha uses a myriad of tools to understand the effects of ecological interactions, such as competition and herbivory, on individuals and populations of various species. During the day, these tools are mathematical models and computer simulations. At night, they are creative writing and speculative fiction.

Long flash. Six second pause. Long flash. Two second pause. Flash. Six second pause. Long flash. Two second pause. Flash.
Darkness was settling over the meadow, punctuated by short flashes of light. Some came from the meadow, while other flashes responded from the edge of the forest. Adam and Amy sat on the blanket, watching the call and response between the fireflies. As it grew darker, the flashes of light became more numerous.
"It's beautiful how the fireflies talk to one another, how they try to find each other in the darkness," Amy said. "Saying I'm here, where are you? I'm here, come find me."
"Yeah, and each species has its own language, its own call and response," Adam replied.
"It's a quiet romance, those small flashes of light until they find one another." Amy poked at Adam. "Nothing like us."
"But he has to be careful. There's this other species that could respond, where she pretends to be interested in him. She beckons him to come closer, closer, but when he finds her, she eats him." Adam grabbed Amy and pulled her closer to him.
"Hey!" Amy squealed. "You aren't pretending just to get me close, are you?"
"No." He leaned his face in close to hers. "I'm not."
"No, you're not." Their lips touched.
Amy lay on her back, surrounded by the stars in the sky. The flashes from the fireflies had mostly stopped, but sometimes a male let out a long flash, desperate to see a response flash, desperate to find a mate. Amy reached over and put her hand on Adam's chest. She snapped off a rib bone and used it to pick a piece of meat out of her teeth.
"You girls have it right, but I don't know how you deal with that hard exoskeleton. Internal skeletons are so much easier to eat around."
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, May 12th, 2016

Author Comments

Like many kids on warm summer nights, I would chase flashes of light and catch the fireflies in jars. I learned these flashes that made fireflies easy to find are the males and females communicating with one another, where each species has its own series of flashes. For example, the flashes described at the beginning of the story are for the species Photinus pyraliz (Case 2004 in Integrative and Comparative Biology). Later I learned that females from the genus Photuris would mimic the female flashes of other species to attract males to capture and eat. Imagine if humans had to find a partner while not being consumed.

- Christopher Stieha
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