Advances in Zoology and Botany Vol. 4(4), pp. 54 - 58
DOI: 10.13189/azb.2016.040402
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Light into Darkness: The Significance of Glowworms and Fireflies in Western Culture


Stefan Ineichen *
Institute of Natural Resource Sciences IUNR, Zurich University of Applied Sciences ZHAW, Switzerland

ABSTRACT

The lampyrids (Coleoptera: Lampyridae) belong to the few insects that have been named and observed accurately for thousands of years. The most common names in European languages are formed as diminutives of light and related terms or they are composed of a term like light, fire and glow in combination with bug, fly or worm. There is a huge variety of idiomatic names - in Italian dialects e.g. about 500 different expressions denominating species like Lampyris noctiluca or Luciola italica are reported. Beyond that, lampyrids are interpreted as signs or used as metaphors in a wide range of the semantic field. Thus, the notion of lampyrids leads to a vast network of associations including such distinct and even contradictory significances as childhood, crop, doom, elves, fear, habitat change, idyll, love, luck, mortality, prostitution, solstice, stars and fleetingness of words and cognition. All these connotations are evoked by six features of the observed lampyrids: light in the darkness, season of appearance, mating, direction of flying in the case of species like Lamprohiza splendidula and Luciola sp., flashing (of Luciola-fireflies) and finally disappearance of lampyrids in landscape and perception. The examples of the presence of lampyrids in literature, visual arts, music and evidence in traditional popular culture collected in past years show that the accent of the connotations is shifted by the change of cultural context: in early times the seasonal indication was relevant for the agricultural calendar, the romantic connotations had their golden age during Belle Époque while in recent decades the associations circle around the disappearance of glowworms and fireflies. Although, the observer is not normally aware of the full richness of significances, the extraordinary complexity of connotations is an important factor for the fascination produced by lightning bugs during summer nights.

KEYWORDS
Glow-worms, Fireflies, Lampyridae, Sign, Icon, Index, Culture

Cite this paper
Stefan Ineichen (2016). Light into Darkness: The Significance of Glowworms and Fireflies in Western Culture. Advances in Zoology and Botany, 4 , 54 - 58. doi: 10.13189/azb.2016.040402.