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Fireflies (Coleoptera: Lampyridae)

Aggressive Mimicry
Females of many Photuris species take perches in the activity spaces of other species and flash responses to passing males like those the males would receive from their own females. Duped males approach the Photuris females, are pounced on and eaten. Photuris females also attack flying male fireflies, using the emissions of the males to guide their attacks. Such predations by these females will have been a major influence on the signaling behavior of prey species: in aiming aerial attacks at flash patterns of flying males, predators have certainly influenced the patterns, particularly pattern duration, and flying behavior; with their signal mimicry they are inside their preys coding system, forcing species to evolve deceptive codes or counter-measures. It was once thought that signaling evolved primarily in the context of avoiding mating mistakes, but a mating mistake is not lethal, and a predator attack can be. Since neither Photuris nor predator specialists like them occur in Asia, fireflies provide a natural intercontinental experiment to explore the impact such focused predation may have on signaling behavior. What goes around comes around, and it would seem that just as prey species have been forced into changing, the communication of predator species also has been influenced by this turn of coevolutionary events, as suggested in the following section.

pattern described for P. tremulans, they are using a flash pattern that is identical to that of Pyractomena angulata, except for its green color; P. angulata flickers are amber. The working explanation is this: when males default to their own pattern, they identify themselves to their own females, prospective mates that are hunting and narrowly tuned (gated) to a prey flash pattern. This system presents an interesting and educational, though difficult, problem in sexual selection. In seeming irony, when Barber chose the specific epithet for Photuris tremulans, he used not this species own signal, but one it borrowed, one being used by other Photuris, too, and perhaps one that they all acquired from the same ancestor (Figs. 37 and 38).

When considering environmental features that have influenced the signaling of fireflies, among the obvious are meteorological elements such as ambient temperature, ambient illumination, and wind; physical certainties, such as the fact that light travels in straight lines, will not pass through opaque objects, and rapidly decreases in visibility with (the square of) distance; and the biological certainty that most organisms and especially predators have photoreceptors. But the signals of other fireflies with which mating mistakes might be made, the signal mimicries of predaceous fireflies, and aerial attack certainly have been of major importance, too. The impact of these elements varies among sites, habitats, seasons, and population densities. When studying the natural history of animals, the naturalist is looking at a chronicle, and when the subjects are fireflies much is written in lights.

Flash Pattern Mimicry

With this general discussion of female-response flashes, and specifically the aggressive mimicry of Photuris females, we now return to the supernumerary flash patterns of Photuris males. They clearly seem to be related to the aggressive mimicry of Photuris females. In several instances, the supernumerary patterns of Photuris males are nearly indistinguishable from the flash patterns of other firefly species. When P. tremulans and P. quadrifulgens males seek mates with the flicker

Fireflies and Intrusive Light

Suitable firefly habitats today are often bathed, if not drenched or washed out, in artificial light.