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Lightning Bugs Demise

By Margaret Gabe


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 I have reason to believe that my cousin Barbara and I are a major cause of the diminishing population of lightning bugs in the world. It all started in the summer of 1958 when she had just turned four. At five months younger then her, and definitely less worldly, I was still a mere three year old.  I looked up to her and liked to do everything that she did.

One of the definite signs that summer has arrived in the Philadelphia area is the arrival of lightning bugs (or fireflies as some people call them). In the darkening twilight of that first warm, humid, suburban summer night, scores of lightning bugs would appear to come floating up from the ground, with golden lights flashing. Summer is here!

We sat on Barbara’s back doorstep one evening watching them. “Let’s try to catch them,” she said. Those slow flying insects were even easy for us little girls to catch. We each captured one of those as yet; unknown to me, doomed creatures. Then Barbara showed me a nifty trick. With her fingernails she pried out the still glowing light from the underside of the insect, effectively killing it. She discarded the body and stuck the light on her finger where the gem of a ring would fit. “Look I made a ring.” The underside of the light was sticky and adhered easily to her skin.

We decorated our hands and fingers this way on many a summer night. The lights on our hands would continue glowing for quite some time. We would dance in the night and magically wave our glowing hands through the air as if we had some inner mystic power.  I continued this morbid practice throughout my childhood. I shared my knowledge with other children who also followed suit.

In later years while visiting Philadelphia in the summer, I absolutely forbade my young sons to do the same. I also noticed fewer lightning bugs.  Makes one wonder.