62 Days of Summer
In the 2009 film “Avatar,” treetops glowed like jellyfish, and camera shots through the fauna and flora gave the sensation of walking through a galaxy of stars. There’s a scientific term for this organic glow: “bioluminescence.”
The science-fiction world of “Avatar,” of course, exaggerated this phenomenon. You can’t find many examples of bioluminescence in the real world aside from deep-sea marine life. But in upstate New York in the summer, you can use a net and a jar to catch your own bioluminescence. Here are some tips on the do-it-yourself firefly jar.
Like many other insects, fireflies are attracted to water. If you live near a pond, lake or creek, look in the long grass by the water’s edge.
But for those living on ordinary streets, look under low-hanging trees and in bushes. Of course, the art of hunting fireflies is made easier by the fireflies themselves, who flash their lights like incoming planes.
Think of fireflies like any other animal — they aren’t going to prance up to a fully lit house. Instead, try walking out onto a dark lawn with a flashlight. Tape a piece of blue tissue paper or plastic wrap over the top of the flashlight if you want to be even sneakier (fireflies find blue light the least disorienting).
How should you catch fireflies? For some people, and the majority of Tinkerbell fans, there’s nothing like catching fireflies with two cupped hands. Something can be said for the nostalgia of that method. When it comes to speed and accuracy, though, a butterfly net works better. Gently swoop the net through the air to catch your prey.
Next, transfer the fireflies to a jar. Any glass jar that’s clean and roomy will do. Here it helps to know a trivia fact: Fireflies only crawl upward. After turning the jar upside down above them, the bugs will crawl up into the jar.
At a time when the firefly population is dwindling — experts suspect urban development and air pollution are the culprits — it’s important that your DIY projects don’t die overnight. The fireflies need a humid environment, best created by placing a small piece of wet apple or a damp paper towel inside a closed jar. Then tightly seal the jar. You don’t need air holes — the air supply actually doesn’t need replenishing and this is a catch-and-release project.
Finally, the release. After no more than two days of captivity, open your jar at night. This is important, because fireflies use their lights to ward off predators, and that defense doesn’t work during the day.
Maybe a Christmas light-sized light sounds like a poor defense mechanism. It’s not — the chemicals that produce a firefly’s light taste bad, and birds and other predatory insects have strong enough memories to recoil at the recollection of eating a lit-up firefly.
The takeaway: If you treat your fireflies well, they’ll reward you with an “Avatar” moment when they fly away.
Have a favorite summer activity? Let us know about it. Share your ideas for Summer Days at www.dailygazette.com/summerdays or firstname.lastname@example.org.