A look into the firefly genus Pyropyga

I’ve loved insects for as long as I can remember. I grew up in the countryside of Bowling Green Ohio, and from a young age I would spend hours outside wandering the fields and woods near my house watching and catching insects. Even before I knew proper mounting and collecting techniques I would take insects and arrange their legs with small sticks and rocks until they dried and then would store them in old VCR tape containers. I would also raise a large number of caterpillars, praying mantises and other insects every summer. My bug rearing fanatics grew so large that a part of my barn was designated as “Martha’s Bug Area”. To me, insects were some of the most fascinating creatures and when I learned that I would be able to turn my passion of insects into a career, I knew it was the right field for me.

VCR Tape Container

VCR Tape Container. Photo by M. Drake

I started college at Ohio state in Autumn of 2015, planning on majoring in Entomology and couldn’t be happier. I was finally on track to being able to do what I loved for the rest of my life, studying and working with insects. Growing up in a small town, not many people around me shared my passion for insects and even fewer knew what the word entomology meant. Being able to meet people who share my passion here at Ohio State has one of the best experiences for me. But a turning point for me had that stood out among the rest has to be when I was hired at the Triplehorn Insect Collection.

I’ve been working at the collection for about 4 years now and I have learned so many things from mounting and handling specimens to curating and identifying them. But one of my favorite parts of working at the collection is getting to see so many interesting and fascinating insects from all over the world.

And when my mentor and curator of the collection Dr. Lu Musetti approached me about working on a research project I jumped at the chance to do so.

It’s been a few months since I’ve started working on the project, where I have been working with Danny Phillips, and Dr. Natalia Molotievskiy, looking into a family of beetles called Lampyridae also known as fireflies or lightning bugs. For those who may not know, fireflies are beetles most well known for their ability to ‘flash’ at night, turning warm summer evenings into spectacular displays of light shows. And though the fireflies are usually brought to people’s attention for their ability to create light, not all fireflies have this ability

Our project is focusing on the different firefly species found in Central Ohio, with each of us taking on a different group. I am focusing on the genus Pyropigawhich is unique in the fact that the adults don’t actually have the ability to flash like other fireflies and they are actually more active during the day rather than at night like more well-known genus are.

According to the literature there are three species of Pyropyga in Ohio: P. minuta, P. nigricans, and P. decipiens. So far I have only been able to find two morphospecies that I tentatively identified as P. minuta, and P. decipiens. 

Pyropyga minuta

Pyropyga minuta. Photo by xpda.

Over the past 2 months I have performed a number of different tasks with the fireflies, including field collecting using Malaise traps, sorting samples to various levels of classification (to order in the bulk samples, to family in the pulled beetles, to genus in the pulled fireflies, and to morphospecies in the pulled Pyropyga), gathering data from published literature, and extracting DNA from selected specimens for DNA barcoding.

There is still quite a bit of work to be done on this project, more samples to sort, more DNA to extract and barcode, and more data to acquire and analyze and I look forward to all of it. I am learning so many new things through this project already and I’m excited to learn and do even more with this incredibly fascinating group of beetles.

About the Author: Martha Drake is fourth-year undergraduate majoring in Entomology and minoring in Environmental Science at Ohio State. She has a particular interest in Coleoptera. She grew up in the countryside of Bowling Green, Ohio, where her interest in insects formed at an early age. In her spare time, she enjoys making photo-realistic art pieces, hiking, camping, and gaming. After college, she plans on attending graduate school and hopes to eventually work in research or in the curation of insect specimens. Martha joined the Triplehorn Insect Collection in September 2015. Unless otherwise specified, all pictures by L. Musetti.

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