Magazine article American Scientist

Torchbearers

Magazine article American Scientist

Torchbearers

Article excerpt

Torchbearers SILENT SPARKS: The Wondrous World of Fireflies. Sara Lewis, xiv + 223 pp. Princeton University Press, 2016. $29.95.

Call these creatures what you will- lightning bugs, glowworms, fireflies- but watching an evening go'by, the air lit by their sparks, is one of summertime's simple pleasures. Development of the characteristics that happen to make fireflies so recognizable and charismatic has, however, involved complex processes. 'Over millennia, fireflies have followed widely varied evolutionary paths. In fact, nearly 2,000 species of fireflies have been discovered globally. This level of complexity might present a serious narrative challenge for some, but Tufts University biologist Sara Lewis's fascination with these insects is captivating and infectious. From Japan to New England, Appalachia to Malaysia, Lewis explores how fireflies have specialized, occasionally to the point that their ostensibly defining features, "fire" and flight, have vanished. …

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