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Totems: Firefly

by Cie Simurro, a.k.a. Thunderbird Starwoman

Would you like a lightshow to accompany summer’s soft evening? We are FIREFLY, strategically placed across the world to bring our magic to everyone’s attention. Were you to understand just how magical Nature is in every aspect, you would respect the smallest of us. Each species has natural processes that are miracles when you consider how they occur, and how they interact in perfect order and timing with other species and with things like weather/temperature cues. How wondrous is all creation! What variety! The more you study Nature, the greater the appreciation you will have for the part of Nature that is you. When you appreciate the miracle of you, then you will find miracles in Nature. See how it works?

As deep twilight shadows descend from the tree line to grass wet with dew, another summer night takes hold. A gentle breeze arises, lifting the heat of day. Crickets and katydids rub their wings, creating a choral event with evening birdsong and cicadas. Suddenly, pinpoints of light appear in deepening dusk; male and female fireflies sparkling in the light of their mating dance. Everyone, young and old stops what they are doing or saying, because no one is immune to the magic of fireflies. We become children of wonder; poets aspiring to describe our delight. Whether you call them lightning bugs, living lanterns, stars in the hand or cold fire, these jewels of the night bring magic to summer’s twilight. Spotting them creates a feeling so tender, that the word vulnerability is an understatement. The heart knows its own reasons for feeling, not whether or not it makes sense from the world’s point of view, is a smart move, or offers advantage. With firefly totem, there is instantaneous, precise illumination of the heart’s deepest silent passions.

Lightning bugs or fireflies are really beetles of the family Lampyridae, aptly named from the Greek word for bright. There are 2000 species worldwide; 170 in the U.S. Fireflies are 4-6 millimeters in length (a bit smaller than a paper clip) with beadlike antennae. The male has a larger glow cell under his abdomen than the female. About half of firefly species glow. Some diurnal fireflies do not; instead they attract mates by emitting pheromones. Species that glow have light signals specific to that species used to attract a mate. I would be remiss if I did not report that some females of the genus Photuris mimic the answering flash code of the smaller Photinus to lure males not as mates, but as meals. Indeed, some women with this totem are femmes fatales. She then absorbs toxins from his blood to deter predators with her now bitter taste. Firefly light is an additional defense mechanism flashing its warning to spiders, birds, lizards and ants, that here is an unappetizing meal. The lion’s share of firefly medicine is attraction/repulsion. When choosing a mate, one would be well advised to ask oneself: What am I looking for in the long run? Is the attraction hormone or heart based? Am I looking to be rescued, or for a soulmate on my journey? One thing is certain – we attract according to our vibration.

Fireflies like woods, brushy areas, meadows and lawns. They hide under foliage and leaves during the day. After sundown, males and females emerge from the grass, males hovering up to six feet off the ground, while females perch on blades of grass. Males and females signal one another through the darkness. The male begins the signaling. A nerve impulse delivered to the luminous gland in his abdomen triggers the production of nitric oxide, which acts as an intercellular messenger, causing a reaction between luciferin, a compound that interacts with oxygen, and the enzyme luciferase, to make cold light called bioluminescence.

Flight paths of flashing males vary according to species: some fly in a "J" pattern; others in swoops, zigzags or waggling. Males have wings. Some females are wingless. Typically, on the upstroke of his flight, the male emits one or more short pulses of light about every two seconds. If it’s very warm, he may speed this up and accordingly, slow it down if it’s cool. A female responds to the male’s signals by flashing a code in the proper response interval to the male above her. By the time the suitor’s courtship flight ends he has rivals attracted by his dance of light. You may think that mating would be over in a flash (excuse the pun) but it may surprise you to learn that fireflies copulate for a few hours! Yet, even if the male firefly elicits a response from the female, and is chosen as mate, he must then achieve fertilization of her eggs. Early in the season, she responds only if she is impressed with his flash, indicating the size of his "nuptial gift" a spermatophore package coiled in a perfect spiral. Spirals are an ancient pattern, symbolizing the unity of opposites, female sexuality and cyclical patterns. In nature, spirals are also found in shells, DNA, even galaxies.

Each species signals at specific times of day. Some flash for about a half-hour at dusk; others for several hours after sunset. Some will flash early in the morning before sunrise. One light shining in the darkness is enough to make a difference. If you work alone for the welfare of the Earth and her creatures, your light shines in the darkness. Your work can be ceremonial, advocating, or caring for the plants and animals that cross your path. Now, think how powerful it is when individual light links up with other light to form a beacon, a grid, a powerful energetic anchoring of light on the planet. So, though scattered light is beautiful and luminous, the joining of light is that much brighter. There is a firefly species in Malaysia (Pteroptyx tener) where thousands flash at the same time in perfect synchronization – on a single, mysteriously chosen tree! Can you imagine the effect – every leaf on a forty-foot tree covered by a firefly – complete darkness alternating with beacon-bright light! This occurs hour after hour, night after night, for weeks or even months. Boatmen use the lights to guide their boats after dark. One would have to wonder at the odds of being the ones to win prized females, since the purpose of the lightshow is to attract mates. What could be the biological significance of such long-lasting concerted synchronization? Yet part of the medicine of this beetle is cooperation in community. Perhaps they do not suffer from the belief in scarcity that makes humans try to beat out all rivals or competitors for food, money, mates and resources. By flocking together cooperatively, males produce a brighter glow, attracting more females.

Many adult fireflies have a diet of pollen or nectar. For those whose lifespan is about two months in the wild, they may not eat at all. Fireflies lay their eggs in moist soil or on vegetation. In North America glowworm larvae may develop for one to three years, yet only live two weeks as adults. This unusual cycle signifies complex patterns built over time coming fortuitously into fruition when firefly appears. Glowworms live underground or in leaf litter and are also luminescent. As carnivores, they eat slugs, earthworms and larvae of smaller insects and snails by injecting them with numbing fluid to incapacitate them. Speaking of numbing, elytra are the hardened front wings that all beetles have, which form a protective sheath over the softer hind wings. Remember how we were talking about the tender, vulnerable heart space that firefly medicine produces? Usually, the more tender the heart, the greater the effort to protect oneself from being hurt. Ah, if only emotional defense mechanisms worked…better to re-examine our core beliefs and assumptions, to see why we are attracting a particular experience. Everything is an inside job! As a fire spirit, firefly facilitates connecting to our inner light. Fire totems clear out old energy, making room for new, rejuvenated energy. As in the unity of opposites the spiral represents, there is creation/dissolution power. Kundalini awakens when firefly arrives. Firefly totem inspires us to become the star each of us has the potential to be, followed by helping us inspire others through the illumination emitted from our star power.

In Japan, where fireflies are highly revered, there are firefly festivals. Fireflies have become symbols for conservation, through river restoration projects aimed at reviving firefly populations. Wherever you live, be mindful of the fragility of the ecosystems in your area. Think what pesticide use does to fireflies. Urban sprawl is a great danger, because fireflies are site-specific, gathering and mating in the same place. If the breeding site goes, they become extinct in that area. Light pollution can also affect courtship, interfering with and discouraging their flash. Even enthusiasts and tourists can diminish firefly numbers by their presence or trampling grass. Until a few years ago, millions of fireflies were collected yearly for research on luciferin and luciferase. Fortunately, there is now synthetic luciferin and the gene for luciferase has been cloned. Bioluminescence is now used to detect harmful micro-organisms, like E.coli in food, and to track the effectiveness of certain cancer drugs. If you love fireflies and wish them to thrive, make your living environment as pure and organic as possible; then go out on magical summer evenings to enjoy the lightshow that the Great Mother has provided. Watch the microcosm of firefly light reflecting the macrocosm of starlight.

Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Star-woman has been a healer and writer for 35 years. For healing, training, or Totems for Stewards of the Earth ($22 to PO 295, Shelburne Falls MA 01370) call 413 625-0385 or email:cie@ciesimurro.com

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