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cover of May 30, 2015 issue

Question Sheet: Firefly Delight


Before reading:

  1. Where would you go if you wanted to see fireflies? 
  2. Come up with two questions of your own about fireflies.

During reading:

  1. How do fireflies produce light? See gslc.genetics.utah.edu/units/basics/firefly/(University of Utah). 
  2. What gas plays an important role in controlling when a firefly's light goes

    on and off? 

  3. How is it possible to make animals such as fruit flies glow? 
  4. Why do fireflies flash? 
  5. What is "sexual selection"? How do some fireflies select their mates? 
  6. Branham says, "We've found time and time again that lots of organisms arrive

    at the same answer by different routes." Explain what he means.

After reading:

  1. How would you go about determining whether firefly numbers are decreasing?

    See ltc.smm.org/buzz/node/1168(Science Museum of Minnesota). 

  2. What is entomology? Why is it important? See entomology.si.edu/Entomology/about.lasso(Smithsonian Institution). 
  3. Why would scientists want to import the firefly's DNA for producing

    luciferase into other animals? See www.scripps.edu/cb/kay/research/xsci2k-1.htm(Scripps Institution). 

  4. What is nitric oxide? Where else can the gas be found? See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitric_oxide(Wikipedia). 
  5. How can "sexual selection" change the look or makeup of a species? See evolution.berkeley.edu/evosite/evo101/IIIE3Sexualselection.shtml

    (University of California, Berkeley). 

  6. What effect might light pollution have on fireflies? What other animals

    might be affected? See www2a.biglobe.ne.jp/~wakaba/local03e.htm (Astronomical Society of Wakabadai, Japan) and www.britastro.org/dark-skies/wildlife.html (British Astronomical Association).


In ancient China, people sometimes captured fireflies in transparent containers and used these containers as lanterns, even though the light didn't last for very long. Where else in the world have people used fireflies in this way? Why would some species of fireflies work better than others? See www.accessexcellence.org/AE/SH/NABT_MN/insects/insect.html

(National Health Museum).


  1. The firefly gene for luciferase can be incorporated into a variety of plants

    and animals to make them glow. Outline a plot for a short science fiction story

    that involves the luciferase gene. 

  2. In China and Japan, "fireflies" are brief poems, often written on scraps of

    silk. Each "firefly," rarely more than one sentence long, expresses a thought on

    a topic such as love, beauty, or life. Compose a "firefly" of your own.


One firefly flashes once every 5 seconds. Another flashes once every 7 seconds. If both flash together, how long do you have to wait until both fireflies flash at the same time again?

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