Sara Lewis is a scientist who loves fireflies sex. Hey, don’t judge, everyone’s got their kink. Some people love the ole ball and gag, some like to do it in public places, other’s like to film themselves, Sara Lewis likes to put on some country music and cut open male fireflies and study their sex organs. Her latest book Silent Sparks: The Wondrous World of Fireflies is now on sale wherever fine books are sold. Scientific America treated us to an excerpt where we learn how Lewis can’t stop thinking about bug sex. She sets the scene of her first encounter:
I vividly recall my first glimpse into the hitherto-hidden world of firefly innards. Sunlight was streaming through tall windows in my third floor laboratory, and Alison Kraus was playing on the boom box.
Okay, Sara. We all love the contemporary bluegrass Americana songstress, Alison Krauss (you spelled her name wrong btw) but can we get to the firefly sex already?
Well not so fast, Lewis first would like to treat us to a house metaphor. Opening up fireflies is like:
…exploring an unfamiliar yet inviting house: you climb the front steps, open the door and venture inside. Peering into rooms and down passageways, you start exploring the interior spaces. Slowly, you begin to decipher what transpires inside the house, piecing it together from small clues—furniture, pictures, the contents of various rooms. All these toys strewn across the floor? This is probably a kid’s room. And the kitchen has a brick pizza oven? The owners must be serious chefs.
Okay, so fireflies have brick pizza ovens inside them? I’m confused.
The interior spaces of male fireflies, I discovered, were jam-packed with stuff.
Oh, why didn’t you just say that. Go on.
Following the twists and turns of their passageways, I could see that everything eventually spilled down into the male’s ejaculatory duct. These male glands were clearly making something destined for export. So what was all this extra equipment manufacturing?
Now I’m hooked. What could it be? Could this be the rumored brick pizza oven? When does all the sex happen? Patience, reader. Lewis would like to build some suspense if you don’t mind.
But the plumbing inside [the] firefly females was complicated. I’d been around the insides of many other female insects. And these firefly females had some reproductive bits that I’d never seen before, including one large, oddly elastic pouch. When mating began, this pouch looked like a deflated balloon. But an hour into copulation, a rotini-like structure appeared inside the pouch, which became hugely distended.
Pouches? Rotini-like structures? Deflated balloons? What’s all this adding up to? Finally the moment we’ve all been waiting for. What is the mysterious thing those males are making?
Here, the male spermatophore was slowly digested over the next few days until nothing but a small, shapeless blob remained.
Huh? Please explain. Be quiet! Lewis is having a revelation:
Firefly sex was turning out to be more seductive than I’d ever imagined!
What is it, Lewis? Just tell us in layman’s terms.
Weeks spent shining a light into dark interior landscapes had revealed something entirely new: firefly “bling.”
Bling? Really? That’s what we’ve been waiting for this whole time? Some annoying buzzword from ten years ago?
Firefly males bestow extravagant sperm packages known as nuptial gifts upon their mates. Although their exact biochemical ingredients are still unknown, we’ve learned a lot about the costs and benefits of these amorous bundles. Firefly sex is not just a simple act of gamete transfer—it’s a complex economic transaction.
Pretty sure that’s prostitution. Either way, we learned a lot!