Just in time for the summer firefly season comes a new popular science book, Silent Sparks: The Wondrous World of Fireflies by Sara Lewis.
Most of us probably remember the wonder we experienced the first time we saw a firefly light up a summer night. Sara Lewis has captured that amazement in a bottle and poured it out onto the page.
Lewis’s passion about her topic shines through from the first paragraph. Written for the lay reader and scientist alike, she summarizes what we know about fireflies from scientific research, but uses easy-to-understand language and defines all the terms, even including a glossary in the back matter. For example, she explains glow-worm fireflies are not worms or larvae at all, but are “plump and wingless females” that glow to attract males.
Most readers probably know fireflies are really beetles. Did you also know not all members of the firefly family (Lampyridae) light up? Lewis calls lampyrids that fly during the day and don’t light up “dark fireflies.” Without the ability to flash, dark fireflies attract mates via pheromones.
Other topics covered in the book include how fireflies produce the glowing light and how it has been exploited in tests for the presence of ATP. She explains what larval fireflies look like and discusses why those that glow do so for a different reason than the adults. She writes extensively about firefly reproduction, the topic of her own research. Lewis also includes practical firefly wrangling advice, ranging from how to get a firefly to sit still (give it a bit of apple) to how to encourage fireflies in your neighborhood (tone down the outdoor lighting). In the back is a key and a field guide to North American genera of fireflies.
Silent Sparks is an enlightening book about these fascinating insects. Reading it just might inspire you to go outside and spend a summer night contemplating the wonder of fireflies.
Want a glimpse into the flavor of the book? Check out the author’s TED Talk, Sara Lewis: The loves and lies of fireflies
Princeton University Press also has a chapter to download and read.
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Princeton University Press (April 26, 2016)
(Public domain photograph of Photinus sp. firefly by Alex Wild)
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