Long summer days used to mean playing outside until dark and dark came late. No one huddled indoors under the air conditioning watching tv or playing on the computer. Summer nights meant the humidity dropped to an acceptable 50% and when the sun set there were still many things that we could do. Soda pop was reserved for special occasions and tall glasses of iced tea (always sweet) waited on the porch and it wasn't uncommon to go through a gallon in the evening. Everyone was active all day and the sugar in the tea was never an issue.
Lightning bugs are fun for kids
Lightning bugs started their nightly show at dusk and it was a contest to see who could catch the most in a Mason jar with holes poked in the lid. The holes in the lid were an important part of lightning bug catching hardware since we wanted to make sure that they could breathe. Never mind that the insects don't breathe in the same way that humans do, we still had to have those holes poked with an old- fashioned ice pick in a used canning flat held on with the ring. We chased and caught lightning bugs for hours and then carried them indoors to have a night light in our rooms. We turned them loose the next morning and probably caught some of the same ones the next evening. There were plenty of open spaces, fields and pastures for them to live and very few chemicals were used that killed them. It is only recently that lightning bug numbers have dwindled to an alarming low. Here in west Kentucky, we still have a nice showing each summer, although the numbers are smaller than in the 1960's.
Lightning bug facts
These fascinating creatures are among several species of bio-luminescent insects that produce visible light. They store the chemicals and enzymes needed to produce the flashes in their bodies and mix it with oxygen to create the light. These flashes are unique to each species and the observer (and potential mates) can recognize which one they are seeing just by watching the flight pattern or counting the flashes. Females wait in the grass in one spot while flashing their 'come hither' lights directing the males to a rendezvous. Once mated, the females lay their eggs and die shortly after. Lightning bugs do not bite or sting and the light they emit has no heat. That's why they are irresistible to kids. They fly slowly and are easy to catch in cupped hands. Some species of fireflies also have bio-luminescent eggs that flash when disturbed and the larvae (known as glow-worms) also emit light. Fireflies are pollen eaters and do not do any harm to flowers, grasses or trees.
Lightning bug lore
These unique little insects are special to many cultures around the world. They are believed to hold the souls of the departed in Japan. Another Asian legend was that fireflies were the souls of warriors that had fallen in battle. Native Americans believed that the fox tried to steal fire from the fireflies and set his tail on fire with some bark. He gives the hawk the flaming bark as he left the village, who scattered the embers as he flew away. That's how the Apache people first received fire. The Victorians, who were experts at celebrating death and mourning believed that if a firefly came into a home that someone would die.
June bugs mean summer is here
June bugs did not have the same allure as the lightning bugs, however we still liked them because they meant that summer was officially here, and they also made good fishing bait. We saw two different beetles that we called June bugs here in western Kentucky. We saw striped ones and brown ones at night and the bigger, metallic green ones during the day. The night-time June bugs often arrived in May and while their numbers were the highest in early summer, they stayed around most of the season. The big, bumbling, clumsy beetles were attracted to the light over the garage door every evening and there were a couple of fat toads that lived under the porch steps that were well fed on June bugs. When they inevitably hit the garage door and fell to the ground, the toads were always waiting to slurp them up with their long, sticky tongues. There are over 100 species of scarab beetles that people call June bugs.
June bug lore
Many cultures with June bug lore believe that the presence of June bugs represent someone with a tough personality and not easily crushed by life's troubles. On the opposite side of this, the term 'crazy as a June bug in May' describes someone who acts irrationally, probably because the June bugs seem irrational when they bumble around the lights at night.
June bug facts and how to deal with the larvae
It is unknown why certain insects are attracted to night-time lights. Most often it is the males, although in a few species both genders flock to the light. Often, they fly around the lights all night until they drop to the ground, exhausted. A popular theory is that they rely on a light source, such as the moon or the sun to navigate, however scientists really do not know why they have this behavior. June bugs flock to lights in such numbers that they often interfere with outdoor activities, bumbling and bumping into guests and family members on patios and in pools. June bugs to not bite or sting, however they do have prickly, stiff hairs on their legs that might pinch a bit if they land on you. The real problem with June bugs is the larval form. These grubs (which are also great fish bait) live in lawns and turf grass and cause damage by eating the roots. Damage appears as brown patches of dead grass and turf that is easily pulled with no roots attached. The grub population also attracts moles and armadillos and they can wreck a lawn with their tunnels and digging. A natural way to rid your lawn of these grubs is by broadcasting Hb nematodes across the lawn. The nematodes are tiny, microscopic worms that burrow into the grubs and kill them from the inside. If you go this route, then do not use the poisons that are available on the market, as they will kill the nematodes you've just bought too.
Summer in the South means bugs and humidity and you can either choose to embrace it or move. I grew up in a time where summer evenings were for sitting on the porch with a glass of sweet tea and your neighbors, or kids playing hide-and-seek or catching lightning bugs. Even now, the sight of fireflies blinking as I drive down the highway brings back fond memories and I head home to sit in my porch swing with a tall glass of sweet tea and enjoy the show in my front yard.