Navigation Links
Biologists expose hidden costs of firefly flashes
Date:9/19/2007

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. -- A new study by biologists at Tufts University has discovered a dark side lurking behind the magical light shows put on by fireflies each summer. Using both laboratory and field experiments to explore the potential costs of firefly courtship displays, the biologists have uncovered some surprising answers.

The research, to be published in the November 2007 issue of American Naturalist and now available online (http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/resolve?id=doi:10.1086/521964), revealed that its energetically cheap for fireflies to produce their distinctive flash signals, but that flashier males are more likely to end up on the dinner table.

On summer evenings, male Photinus fireflies lift off into the air to broadcast their bioluminescent flashes in search of females. Females perched in the grass sit and admire passing males and, if they're interested, will flash in response. Previous research on many different firefly species has shown that females respond more readily to males that give longer flashes, as well as those with faster flash rhythms. This female choice favors firefly males that produce more conspicuous flashes.

"Since females so clearly prefer the flashier males, one thing that's been puzzling scientists is what's keeping these males from evolving longer and longer, faster and faster flashes," says Sara Lewis, professor of biology at Tufts and leader of the research team that included postdoctoral researcher William Woods and two undergraduate students. In theory, there might be some hidden costs to more conspicuous flashes, but what are they"

To answer this question, the researchers set out to look at two potential costs of firefly flash signals. First they measured the energy that fireflies expend while they're producing their bioluminescent flashes. In carefully controlled laboratory experiments, the team used tiny respirometry chambers to measure how much carbon dioxide each firefly produced when they were flashing compared with when they were resting. "Basically, we're in the business of measuring bug breath," notes Woods. These respirometry results demonstrated that fireflies require surprisingly little energy to produce their magical flashes, even less than what it takes them just to walk around.

Evolutionary Balancing Act Could Generate New Species

Once the Tufts team established that flashing had such a low energy cost, they tried a simple field experiment to measure the potential predation costs of firefly flash signals. Photinus fireflies are known to produce noxious chemicals that deter most predators, yet make them the top menu choice for the larger predatory fireflies known as Photuris. Using basic materials that included electronic fake fireflies (manufactured by Firefly Magic), plastic toy-dispensing capsules designed for vending machines, and sticky glue, the researchers made two startling discoveries.

In the field, predatory fireflies were attracted significantly more often to the fake firefly signals compared with non-flashing but otherwise identical controls. In addition, when flash signals were more frequent, they were much more likely to attract predators. So even though more conspicuous flash signals provide male fireflies with an evolutionary leg up in terms of attracting females, they also have a potentially fatal downside because they are more likely to attract predators in search of their next meal.

"Every single night, male fireflies are out there flying a fine line between sex and death. For us, it definitely rivals the most exciting television thriller!" says Lewis. "So, next time you're outside on a summer night take a moment to admire the firefly romance and risk thats playing out all around you."

According to Lewis, the importance of these two conflicting forces could easily shift in different firefly populations. Therefore, it's possible that this evolutionary balancing act might generate entirely new firefly species with their own distinctive flash codes.

Funded by a National Science Foundation program called Research Experiences for Undergraduates, the Tufts research could ultimately help us to better understand the evolution of communication in many organisms, including humans.


'/>"/>

Contact: Kim Thurler
kim.thurler@tufts.edu
617-627-3175
Tufts University
Source:Eurekalert

Related biology news :

1. Octopuses occasionally stroll around on two arms, UC Berkeley biologists report
2. GeneNotes - A novel information management software for biologists
3. Biologists discover why 10% of Europeans are safe from HIV
4. Biologists determine genetic blueprint of social amoeba
5. FSU biologists describe key role of signal-transcribing gene during cell cycle
6. Biologists call for better choice of model organisms in evo-devo
7. NYU biologists map out early stages of embryo formation
8. Biologists Crack Genetic Code for Specialized Spider Silk
9. Biologists discover new pathway into plant cells
10. High-tech tags on marine animals yield valuable data for biologists and oceanographers
11. UCSD biologists find new evidence for one-way evolution
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:1/27/2016)... WEST CHESTER, Ohio , Jan. 27, 2016 /PRNewswire/ ... services supplier based in West Chester, Ohio ... and their award winning service staff, based in ... Track,s technical capacity and ability to provide modifications, installations ... John Dovalina , CEO of PLUS, commented, "PLUS ...
(Date:1/21/2016)... India , January 21, 2016 ... According to a new market research report "Emotion Detection ... and Others), Software Tools (Facial Expression, Voice Recognition ... Regions - Global forecast to 2020", published by ... is expected to reach USD 22.65 Billion by ...
(Date:1/15/2016)... 2016 Recent publicized breaches in cyber security ... ways to ensure data security and user authentication in ... Android that ties a user,s mobile number ... a hardware authorization token. Customer service agents who employ ... their KodeKey enabled device to verify their identity.  Companies ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:2/4/2016)... Oakland, California (PRWEB) , ... February 04, 2016 ... ... Artificial Intelligence (AI) and leading supplier of Semantic Graph Database technology has been ... Graph Database Products ” by Corporate America Magazine. , “At Corporate America, it’s ...
(Date:2/3/2016)... SAN DIEGO , Feb. 3, 2016 /PRNewswire/ ... medicine company with the first pluripotent stem cell-derived ... 1 diabetes in clinical-stage development, today announced that ... Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, have ... BetaLogics group into ViaCyte.  The agreement provides ViaCyte ...
(Date:2/3/2016)... Denmark , Feb. 3, 2016 Ascendis ... biotechnology company that applies its innovative TransCon technology to ... present at an upcoming investor conference.Event:2016 Leerink Partners Global ... NY Date:  , Wednesday, February 10, 2016 Time:  ... www.ascendispharma.com . --> An audio webcast ...
(Date:2/3/2016)... Denver, Colorado (PRWEB) , ... February 03, 2016 ... ... to hospitals, has established a new office dedicated to the North American healthcare ... provide turnkey solutions to healthcare facilities. The company will provide new pneumatic ...
Breaking Biology Technology: