The Femme Fatale
You may be familiar with the popular phrase: it's a "dog-eat-dog" world, meaning people tend to look out for themselves, and will do what ever it takes to benefit their self over others. Well, the same can be said about fireflies. It's a "firefly-eat-firefly" world out there, and while flashing light patterns serve as species-specific communication specifically used for attracting mates, sometimes the female firefly may have a hidden agenda. Love can be lethal for a male firefly, as some female species practice what is called aggressive mimicry. The infamous femme fatale can crack the secret courting codes and mimic the flash of other male firefly species in order to lure them into harm's way. When the male species responds to the flashes and comes toward her, she devours him as her evening meal.
The Femme Fatale uses aggressive mimicry to lure a male firefly into her trap. Photo Courtesy of Doug Taron
Dr. Tom Turpin, professor of Entomology at Purdue University, explains that fireflies also use their flashing lights to warn other fireflies of danger. Referred to as "distressed" insects, Turpin explains that more often than not, a distressed insect will attract its own species to come to its rescue. The distress of a firefly benefits the infamous femme fatale because she will approach acting as though she is there to rescue, all the while knowing her plan is to devour whatever is in distress. Turpin tells an action story of the predator femme fatale that proves that it's a "firefly-eat-firefly" world! Turpin says, "One night we were out observing fireflies, and a firefly got caught in a spider's web. The spider began wrapping it up, and it was flashing its distress signal as hard as it could. While we were watching it a femme fatale firefly landed, chased the spider away, and made a meal out of the trapped firefly."