Fireflies – A Natural Remedy For “Old Eyes”
Ravishu Punia riddled by a case of “old eyes” chances upon the remedy in the form of little light-emitting beetles. Read his account of his journey to Bhandardara, his path illuminated by nature's guiding lights.
As we grow older, we lose the ability to really see the world, looking at it with “old eyes”. Caught in the monotony of our lives, we perceive things without really looking, becoming bizarrely blind to the beauty of the world. However, as I have recently discovered, an activity which can help one “regain” their eyesight is traveling. Even if for a day, traveling can do wonders for a person specially if one travels into the natural world.
I recently had the chance to travel to Bhandardara, a hill station situated near Igatpuri, in the Western Ghats of India. It is located in the Tehsil Akole Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, about 185 kilometers from the bustling city of Mumbai. One of the attractions and highlights, literally, of the village are the Lampyridae, a family of insects in the beetle order Coleoptera, more commonly known as fireflies.
Photo: Ravishu Punia
Light-shedding on the fireflies:
These little creatures, through time, have fascinated millions. They have found representation in popular songs, art and even literature. The well-known American poet, Robert Frost, elucidated their delicate existence in his poem “Fireflies in the Garden”.
Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can't sustain the part.
Now what is this star like start and where does it come from?
Well, these glowing nocturnal winged beetles utilize a phenomenon called bioluminescence to produce light in their bellies, which radiates in yellow, orange or green color. As described by National Geographic, fireflies have dedicated light organs that are located under their abdomens. The insects take in oxygen and inside special cells, combine it with a substance called luciferin to produce light with almost no heat. This light production makes fireflies the most efficient light producers on the entire planet. Talk about sustainable living!
Their light, as pretty as it is, is crucial to the beetle’s existence. While the larvae, often referred to as glowworms, are believed to use their bioluminescence to warn predators of their unsavory taste; the primary purpose of the light in adult beetles is to attract a potential mate. The flying beetles, the male of the species, use their soft glow in an elaborate and refined mating ritual to court the females on the ground below. The females, which mostly do not fly, communicate with the males by giving flash responses of their own. These flashes are intermittent and unique to each firefly species. Since, the adult firefly’s main aim is to mate and procreate, its average lifespan is about 2 months.
These captivating creatures have seen their numbers dwindle in the last few years and many of the 2000 species are in severe danger. One of the major reasons for this decline has been man’s insatiable appetite for land. Fireflies breed and exist in the woods and forests, along lakes and streams, in dense gardens and unruly meadows. With man usurping most of their natural habitat, they have nowhere to go.
The use of pesticides is also a cause for concern as it kills firefly larvae, which unknown to the farmers, support cultivation by feeding on harmful insects. However, the biggest reason for their decline singlehandedly is light pollution. The fireflies use their chemically produced internal light for a myriad of reasons and all external, artificial forms of light – from houses, car headlights and others disrupt their life sustaining functions. Unable to utilize their glow in the presence of artificial lights, the fireflies have started dying out.
Photo: Ravishu Punia
Bhandardara: The light of Maharashtra
Lacking in all these malicious factors Bhandardara serves as an ideal habitat for these insects who act as nature’s light bulbs. Their count here, goes up by millions just before the onset of the monsoons with the numbers peaking around the second week of June. The humidity brought on by the monsoons and the cold weather (Bhandardara being a hill station) provides a conducive environment for the fireflies to flourish. We were told by our guide that the fireflies prefer to reside in fruit bearing trees; not surprising since adult fireflies feed primarily on pollen and nectar. In Bhandardara these little creatures are spoilt for choice with trees such as mango, hirda, behda, java plum and country fig spread across the land.
We reached Bhandardara in the evening after catching a local train from Dadar to Kasara and then taking a car to complete the rest of the journey.
Upon arrival, our party of around 50 people divided into three groups and embarked on a night-trek to witness these light-emitting creatures. As we walked into the forests far away from the lights of civilization we started noticing tiny flickers of light. The quiet darkness of the night was in perfect juxtaposition with the soft light emitted by these alluring creatures.
The flickers, few and far in between, signaled that we were getting close to the mother lode. Surely enough, we stumbled upon a tree, dazzling with the glow of a number of these lightning beetles. I stood there, enthralled by nature’s light display.
Photo: Aditya Padhye
As I stood there, looking at the soft yellow light emitting from the insides of these tiny creatures, a realization dawned upon me. There was so much beauty, mystery and magic in this world and yet, somehow I had become oblivious to it all. Even though I had seen pictures on my computer and read all about fireflies, what happened in front of my eyes seemed otherworldly. I felt like I was standing amongst thousands of stars, flickering in and out of existence.
New light for old eyes:
Traveling into nature is perfect for resetting a mind and body that have become too accustomed to the monotony of city life. It takes you back to your roots and makes you realize the vastness of this planet as you experience landscapes which defy human expectations.
Develop that habit in your daily life; observe the little garden in your backyard. It is an ecosystem in itself; bustling with life. All the colors, the smells and the sounds that you had ignored for so long will come back to life. The insects, birds and animals, that call the garden their home, will appear fascinating and their behavior enthralling. Your local garden is always putting up a show; you just need to see with “new eyes”.
Our natural world is stranger than any planet in the stories of science fiction. There are “immortal” jellyfish which can cheat death, tardigrades (water bears) that can survive volcanoes, space and live without food for 10 years. Hummingbirds that flap their wings 200 times every second and spiders that weave silk, 2 inches of which can stop a double decker airplane! Eels which literally spout 600 volts of electricity from their bodies!
The day we learn to truly see things, we will rediscover the magic in the world.
Our natural world, in its constant flux is always regenerating and renewing itself. Only our eyes become old, causing the exquisiteness to go unnoticed.
Learn from children and their twinkling “new” eyes, for they have the ability to see the world for what it is – an endless display of beauty and magic!
Ravishu Punia is an entrepreneur who runs a furniture business. A closet writer, he dabbles in poetry, fiction and philosophy. Having recently discovered his love for the wilds, Ravishu has taken up nature-writing in an attempt to contribute to the world of conservation and environment.
Author: Ravishu Punia