- Associated Press - Saturday, July 2, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - The glow of fireflies is nothing short of magic.

It’s the joy of watching them light up in the grass, or catching them and letting them go again. And for some kids, it’s the fun of using their ends as glow-in-the-dark chalk on the sidewalk.

This summer, the entertainment is especially abundant for Nebraskans, as the month of June came with an influx of lightning bugs, usually the Eastern firefly, or Photinus pyralis.

The number of fireflies depends on the weather, said University of Nebraska-Lincoln entomologist James Kalisch.

Mild weather and episodes of rain work in favor of the fireflies, he said.

Kalisch said last summer brought in just as many of the glowing bugs — especially around water that accumulated in ditches along U.S. 77.

“There’s a good number right now,” he said, “but if we were to enter into a drought, the number could be cut down next year.”

The Lincoln Journal Star (http://bit.ly/29aADYI ) reports that the peak time for fireflies is in June and early July, typically subsiding toward the end of July.

They feed off larvae, or soft-bodied insects such as earthworms, maggots, slugs and snails that surface after rain and during mild weather, so they help control the population of the soft-bodied insects.

But it’s their aesthetic that attracts kids big and little.

“Parents will call me from drier, western states asking where they should take their kids to see fireflies because they haven’t seen them before,” Kalisch said. “People will travel as far east as they need to see them.”

Spring Creek Prairie Community Education Director Jason St. Sauver said the mystery of the insect fascinates people — and the question of why the bugs light up will be answered at a family picnic planned for the prairie sanctuary in July.

Here’s a pre-picnic explanation from University of Nebraska-Lincoln entomology professor Tom Weissling.

“They glow by combining a precise mixture of two chemicals — luciferin and luciferase — plus oxygen,” he said. “The really neat thing is that reaction gives off virtually no heat.”

Since oxygen is a main contributor and there’s no heat loss in the chemical reaction called bioluminescence — fireflies are considered the most efficient light source in the world, said St. Sauver.

And then there’s that sparkle, Kalisch said.

“They’re probably in the top 10 favorite insects for people,” he said. “It’s just amazing to watch their activity.”

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com

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