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Along the wooded buffer of Little Crum Creek, a variety of fireflies quietly rise and fall, their glows beckoning like distant buoys on waves of humid summer night.

Out in Lancaster, a journalist sees children toting a jiffy jar full of fireflies through the darkness “like a Lite-Brite set.”

“And on dark summer nights,” writes a reporter from the Inquirer in a New Jersey garden, “lightning bugs blink in the bamboo like electric confetti.”

Whatever associations we might import, these remarkable creatures quietly carry on in their very own way and place.

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Unidentified firefly along LCC.

Around here they include the Pennsylvania lightning bug (photuris pennsylvanica), our state insect.

These little beetles communicate with light, either signaling mates or warning predators, and therefore prefer dark places like the dimming woodland where males and females vie for one another’s attention.  Successful females plant eggs amid rotting ground debris where larvae hatch to feed on slugs, worms, and insects all summer long.  Come fall, the larvae burrow underground for a further transformation into pupae. Fully developed adults emerge the following summer, maybe sooner, to illuminate the night as their parents had the previous year.

One night this year in the middle of May, the first golden flecks of light appeared on the Little Crum floor.  A few weeks later, these lights filled the air. From tree tops down, they silently beckoned everywhere.  The nocturnal soundscape of rustling, mewing, and buzzing critters, ever-bathed in the gurgling blather of the creek’s rocky shallow, was suddenly suffused with the slowing, quieting flight of fireflies.

I know another place, far away, whose fireflies hatch only from the cleanest water.  The mountain night is dark.  The fireflies, large.  Their slowly glowing lights are trailing and bright. They are also brief, lasting as short as two weeks some summers.  At other times of the year, folks might mark a poignant moment together with sentimental songs about the firefly’s impermanence.  But during the brief window of time when these hotaru fly, many will set aside their evening hours to simply sit and witness these silent lights by the streamside.

This is the news.

This is a tradition we might keep all season long beside Little Crum Creek.

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