Conversations with Fireflies
A Case Study of Mimicry and Defense
This case explores the aggressive mimicry behavior of the femme fatale firefly - female fireflies in the genus Photuris that mimic the flash pattern of females in the genus Photinus in order to lure Photinus males to their death. The case consists of a series of fictionalized field book entries that are based on an article by J.E. Lloyd that originally appeared in Science in 1965, as well as a series of handouts that the instructor presents to the students for analysis and discussion in class in a progressive disclosure format.
- To illustrate aggressive mimicry.
- To expose students to the scientific process.
- To give students practice interpreting results.
- To introduce students to a classic entomological story.
KeywordsAggressive mimicry; firefly flashing; femme fatale firefly; Lampyridae; Photuris; Photinus; lucibufagin; insect; animal behavior; entomology; predator; predation; experimental design
Topical AreasScientific method
Educational LevelHigh school, Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Type / MethodsInterrupted, Journal Article
Subject HeadingsBiology (General) | Ecology | Zoology |
Instructors may wish to make use of the optional supplemental material below.So Flashy: The Chemistry Behind a Firefly's Glow
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The following video(s) are recommended for use in association with this case study.
- In a Flash: Firefly Communication
Fireflies communicate with a "language of light" that scientists still don’t completely understand. In this video, James Lloyd and Marc Branham of the University of Florida, Gainesville, discuss unique flash patterns and times for some of the 2,000 types of fireflies that light up the summer nights. Created by Science Friday. Produced by Emily V. Driscoll. Running Time: 4:32 min. Date: July 3, 2014.