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Evolution. 2016 Sep;70(9):2033-48. doi: 10.1111/evo.13002. Epub 2016 Aug 8.

The evolution of adult light emission color in North American fireflies.

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Department of Genetics, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, 30602.
Department of Genetics, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, 30602.
Department of Plant Biology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, 30602.


Firefly species (Lampyridae) vary in the color of their adult bioluminescence. It has been hypothesized that color is selected to enhance detection by conspecifics. One mechanism to improve visibility of the signal is to increase contrast against ambient light. High contrast implies that fireflies active early in the evening will emit yellower luminescence to contrast against ambient light reflected from green vegetation, especially in habitats with high vegetation cover. Another mechanism to improve visibility is to use reflection off the background to enhance the light signal. Reflectance predicts that sedentary females will produce greener light to maximize reflection off the green vegetation on which they signal. To test these predictions, we recorded over 7500 light emission spectra and determined peak emission wavelength for 675 males, representing 24 species, at 57 field sites across the Eastern United States. We found support for both hypotheses: males active early in more vegetated habitats produced yellower flashes in comparison to later-active males with greener flashes. Further, in two of the eight species with female data, female light emissions were significantly greener as compared to males.


Bioluminescence; Lampyridae; contrast hypothesis; emission spectrum; reflectance hypothesis; sensitivity hypothesis

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