April and Kevin in Kuna Yala, the northeast coast of Panamá

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

UFO in Panama!

Many of you reading this already know that I am a bit nerdy at times....I might as well admit it to the rest of you because you will figure it soon enough. But really, I am also a fairly normal person too.

So it all started last year...the observation of one of the coolest bugs that I have ever seen. Panama has some great wildlife to observe...but I doubt that many people have visited to see the lightning bugs. Yes, lightning bugs (or fireflys to some) do exist, they are not just a Disney or Hollywood creation as my fellow PCVs from the west coast thought...poor souls who grew up deprived of lightning bug wonders.

Here on the island we have "normal" lightning bugs, a little bit smaller than those in the states and sometimes a bit more sychronized (video of sycronized lightning bugs)....but basically the same. We also have two other types of lightning bugs. My nerdy self just wiggled in excitement at the diverisity of it all.

The first one I noticed had a big bright orange light...its light was about the size of my thumbnail!!! I only got to see it flying as it tended to fly faster and higher than the "normal" lightning bugs. It also seemed to flash with a bit more frequency and when it flashed its light was frequently a sequence of flashes, not just an on and off again. I was facinated by these bigger orange lightning bugs, but they seemed too fast for me to catch, especially since they seemed to like the woods around our house more than the fields...making running after them much more difficult. So I just admired from afar waiting for the day that one would make the mistake to cross my path.

There was also a lightning bug who had the normal green/yellow color to its flash. I only knew that it was a different type at first because the strength of the flash was so strong. It strobed with the power (and sometimes the speed too) of a weak camera flash!! One night we had one of the strong flashers in our bed room, so I got out of the mosquito net to see what it looked like. It was a fairly non-descript beetle...a bit bigger (about 2x the size) than of a normal lightning bug. Pretty cool, not as common as the other two...but very powerful flash!

So just imagine my gleeful nerdyness when I looked out the "window" (fancy word for the space where we made the bamboo wall in the kitchen short to keep the view) and saw two bright green lights at the edge of the woods near the house. They looked like green LED lights. So of course I went to look thinking that it would likely be two bugs...and was very excited to find one bigger beetle with two lights.

This is what the lights looked like. He could control the brightness of the light to some extent...it could be very bright or dim...and powered up and down like it was on a dimmer switch. Very cool.

This is what he looked like under a light. Pretty non-discript in his color and markings.
This is to give you a sense of scale and size. He crawled all over my hand for a few minutes...turning his lights on and off. If touched the lights turned on very bright. I was finally tired of bothering him when he decided to fly away...and shocked the heck out of me...as he took off and flew away the underside of his abdomen light up ORANGE!! I was thrilled!!
Lucky for me, he did not fly far and I was able to chase him down and look at him again. I looked at his underside...but there was no way to tell that he had an orange light under there...it must be covered when at rest. But each time he prepared to fly the orange light would flare up on the underside. After much patience on my part and a hand over top of him to keep him from getting far I managed to get a photo of both lights. The orange light is just starting up in this photo.
It turns out, I think, that he is the same lightning bug that I have been admiring flying around our house. The one that was brighter, orange and tended to fly faster and higher than the "normal" lightning bugs. I had wanted to see one up close and never managed to catch one until now...and even then it was a suprise!
Below is a brief video of the lightning bug taken by Kevin. If you are very observant you can see the orange light start up in the moment before the beetle escapes us photographers with a flying get-away. Watch carefully...when he goes it is FAST!

In my wanderings around the web I visited the Wikipedia site on fireflies and found out that sycronization of flashing is common in some areas...
"In the United States, one of the most famous sightings of fireflies blinking in unison occurs annually near Elkmont, Tennessee in the Great Smoky Mountains during the first weeks of June. Congaree National Park in South Carolina is another host to this phenomenon."
Guess I know what I want to see if I can ever manage to hit Tennessee in early June!
I continue to watch the lightning bugs in facination. There are some really cool insects here to see...and to photograph. I would like to thank my faithful and patient lighting aide Kevin for his help to photograph the bugs that visit us. Some people would think I am just strange, but he just smiles and holds the flashlights steady.


Kristin said...

Oh, sometimes I forget just how nerdy you are! somehow you remind me again each time... nicely in a different way each time.

Foy and Jeff said...

Yeah, those ones with the orange butts are lantern beetles. I cat thought they were delicious.

Foy and Jeff said...

Yeah, those ones with the orange butts are lantern beetles. I cat thought they were delicious.