Last updated 6/12/2012
I was sitting around the camp fire one night in Northern Australia when I noticed some tiny flashes of light in the air above the camp fire. I thought it could have been sparks and specs of ember thrown out by the fire, but the colour of the flashing light was almost white so didn’t match the usual orange colour you’d expect from a fire. Maybe some weird northern wood that gives off white burning sparks? The wife suggested it could be fireflies. “There’s no fireflies in Australia” I told her. “That’s American stuff you see in the movies. Shows how little you know about the aussie outback.”
Well yet again it turns out the wife was right and I was wrong. There are fireflies in Australia. Completely foreign to many southerners like myself, they reside in tropical and subtropical northern regions of Australia. One species can be found as far south as Sydney.
A firefly is actually a flying beetle of the family Lampyridae. They produce light by a chemical process called bioluminescence. There’s a couple of thousand species found around the world, with 25 found in Australia. They emerge in summer with the increase in temperature and water from wet season storms. The flashing organ is on the underside of the beetle at the rear end of the abdomen. It looks like a little flashing LED light. The species I saw were emitting a pale yellow light, but other species produce green or red colours. The light flashes for just a moment, but can continue flashing regularly for long periods of time. The light helps the beetles find a mate.