August 19, 2005

The Deceptive Nature of Firefly Love

New research finds that females of the firefly species Photinus ignitus choose males based on flash pattern in their taillights. A long burning flash means the male can offer a high quality nuptial gift – a sperm package high in nutrients.

"Females that receive high quality nuptial gifts lay lots more eggs," Tufts University firefly researcher Sara Lewis told LiveScience. "So there is a benefit for females that choose one of these males."

But males of a related species, Photinus greeni, may not be so honest. The greeni males with the most desirable flash pattern do not provide the best nuptial gift.

"The question now is whether the males are being purposely dishonest or signaling something else," Lewis said. "Females definitely notice the variation. They're still being choosey."

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